College Kids Confident In Their Self-Confidence

Another day, another study supposedly showing that young people are narcissistic assholes. This time, data shows that college students are more confident in a number of ways than their forebears. But is this necessarily a bad thing?

According to the AP, psychologist Jean Twenge, who's been beating the kids-today-are-too-damn-full-of-themselves drum for years now, has conducted a new study of incoming college freshmen. Half of her subjects rated themselves as "above average" in social self-confidence, compared to just the third in 1966. And when it came to intellectual self-confidence, 60% rated themselves above the norm, compared with just 39% in the 1966 group. Twenge says these kids are deluded, maybe because grade inflation has led them to think they're all A students. "It's not just confidence," she explains — "It's overconfidence."

Is she right? The AP coverage of the study is a little difficult to parse — the way kids rate their confidence is different from how they rate their actual skills. For instance, if every freshman said she was a genius, we might have a problem on our hands. But if students are just saying they're confident about their intellects, that's a different thing entirely. Sure, misguided confidence can cause problems. But with self-esteem also comes self-efficacy — Meredith College professor Deborah Tippett says her students' robust sense of themselves may give them the energy they need to tackle big projects, like building an orphanage for pediatric AIDS patients.

Tippett also points out that kids who "believe they can do it all" may suffer awakening when they first fail at something. And it's true that growing up believing you're exceptional can make a simply satisfactory life feel like a disappointment. But there's a difference between preparing young people for the setbacks and general ordinariness of much of adulthood and constantly berating them for being pompous jerks. As Tippett points out, confidence can have a lot of benefits, and it behooves us as a society to learn how to harness it, not wish it away.

New Data On College Students And Overconfidence [AP, via USA Today]

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