The ‘kids these days’ aren’t so bad, new research claims.
Instead, scientists argue that the shortcomings older generations see in millennials and gen Z-ers aren’t about the younger groups at all.
Psychologists from the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), claim their tests prove that the ‘the kids these days’ phenomenon is all in the eyes – and heads – of the older beholders.
By testing study participants’ IQs, attitudes toward authority and opinions of themselves, the study authors say they’ve debunked the notion that the ‘kids these days’ are any less respectful, intelligent or well-read than past generations.
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Snowflakes, overly-PC, narcissistic, lazy, entitled: these are just a few terms that are routinely used to describe millennials, a name that has itself taken on the sting of an insult.
Oddly, a Pew Research Center poll found that only about 40 percent of people born between 1981 and 1996 actually identify with the name their generation has been given.
And despite being dubbed ‘lazy,’ millennials are actually to be the most educated generation ever in the US.
So, what gives, wondered the UCSB researchers.
They suspected that the opinions held by generation X and, especially, by baby boomers were much more about how the older generations see themselves than about any traits of millennials.
It’s hard for even the most rigorous psychological studies to pin down how we perceive ourselves and others.
Some theories suggest we’re actually pretty on-target in how we perceive ourselves. Others have found that the people who score best on tests tend to be the ones that assume they did poorly.
But the opposite is true, too, according to a 2004 study entitled Unskilled And Unaware Of It.
It may sound alarming, but scientists have actually found that this form of self-deception is a critical survival mechanism.
Many social psychologists believe that deceiving yourself is crucial to confidence, and confidence is crucial to getting ahead.
The unskilled and unaware theory, coupled with work that suggests humans generally think we’re better than everyone else, without any real trait basis for that opinion, was the inspiration for the UCSB team’s hypothesis.
In order to test it, they tested over 3,458 Americans between ages 33 and 51.
In addition to asking what this group thought of today’s youth, the research team assessed how authoritarian each participant was, how intelligent they were (according to IQ tests), and how well they were.
When the results were in, the researchers found a fairly simple pattern: the smarter someone was, the more likely they were to think the kids today are getting dumber, the better read, the less they thought younger generations are, and the more authoritarian their own leanings were, the more disrespectful they believed youth to be.
Broadly, the study group believed the younger generation is in decline and worst than them, with the exception of intelligence. Participants thought that intelligence was about equal from generation to generation, unless they themselves were particularly intelligent.
And to take it a step further, the research team started toying with participants’ perceptions of their own reading enjoyment and literary prowess in another study
These study participants were given an ‘author recognition’ test, and how much they remembered enjoying reading as a child – but how they answered the author test, in fact, didn’t matter at all.
Researchers randomly told them they’d scored in the top, bottom or middle of the pack, as a way of undermining and manipulating how well read the participants thought they were.
They found that manipulating people’s memories of themselves actually changed how they saw others.
‘The present findings suggest that denigrating today’s youth is a fundamental illusion,’ the study authors wrote.
‘Although the cognitive mechanisms that unfairly impugn children today are likely to persist for millennia to come, knowledge of their sources may minimize unwarranted gloom about future generations.’