Does narcissism vary by generation? That question fascinated Casey Roche, a senior psychology major intent on a career in developmental pediatrics. Her curiosity led her to existing studies and before she knew it, she was engaged in an ongoing research project with psychology professor Amy Kolak. Now, this study has become the focus of Roche’s bachelor’s essay and the topic of a manuscript the two are submitting for publication in an academic journal.

“I read a well-known study which asserts that millennials are the most narcissistic generation,” explains Roche, who is a student in the Honors College. “The author suggests that this trait will never change and society as a whole will simply have to adapt to this circumstance. That struck a chord in me, and I decided to conduct my own research to test that claim.”

Working with Kolak, Roche conducted a nationwide survey to collect data. Using the Narcissistic Personality Inventory as their investigative tool, they queried individuals from 18 to 71 years old with the subjects representing a broad spectrum of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. The pool included emerging adults in college and those not in college as well as those employed and unemployed.

“What’s interesting,” she says, “is that our findings point to a different generation – Gen Z. We found that these emerging adults tend to be much more narcissistic than millennials.”

Roche isn’t sure what causes her peer group to rank as so much more narcissistic than other generations, but she has a theory that might explain the obsession with selfies and social media.

“I’m applying to grad schools right now, so I’ve been writing essays about myself and essentially selling Casey Roche,” she explains. “It feels very narcissistic to write in such a self-focused fashion, but that’s what you have to do at this stage of life. All emerging adults are in the process of moving out into the world. Society demands that we present the best version of ourselves in order to succeed. And given that, it makes sense that ours is the group that scores highest in narcissistic traits. Now, I’ve come to regard narcissism as something that’s not necessarily negative.”

Featured image of Casey Roche by Aleece Sophia