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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, July 04, 2018 1:00 am

Study: US a narcissistic nation

Scientists looked at opinion of how crucial state was

Washington Post

Is America a narcissistic country? As America gathers together to celebrate itself, this seems a fair question.

The answer is a resounding yes, according to new research – but some states are more narcissistic than others.

In a study published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers asked more than 2,800 residents how much their home state contributed to the history of the United States. Residents of Delaware believed on average that their state helped create 33 percent of the nation's history. Georgians believed their state played almost as central a role with 28 percent.

Texans and Californians – two states famous for their braggadocio – ranked themselves at 21 and 22 percent, which was massive but nowhere near Virginia's 41 percent and Massachusetts' 35 percent.

“The question we asked is crazy in one sense, because there's no correct answer, but it told us a lot about people and what they believe about themselves,” said Henry Roediger, a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis.

What was universal was the self-aggrandizing view that people have when it comes to their own states – a kind of communal selective memory and self-importance that psychologists are just beginning to study and have dubbed “collective narcissism.”

Even folks in states such as Kansas and Wyoming – which weren't part of the original 13 colonies or historical powerhouses – had outsize opinions of their role in American history.

When researchers added up the average estimations from each state, it equaled a whopping 907 percent.

“We thought the numbers would be high, but not this high,” said Roediger, who studies memory theory.

He and the other researchers then had some participants first take a history quiz that emphasized the breadth of American history and the fact that there are 50 states.

“We thought maybe if people had their face rubbed into U.S. history, it would change the results,” Roediger said. “We thought they would say to themselves, 'Hmm, none of this happened in Wyoming.'”

The prerequisite quiz had no effect at all.

To create something they call a “Narcissism Index,” the researchers compared the estimations by home state residents to how other people around the country ranked a state. Virginia and Delaware led the nation with the highest levels of collective narcissism, according to their index.

New York, Pennsylvania, Georgia and New Jersey followed close behind.

The researchers involved in the state-by-state study attribute the seeming narcissistic behavior of residents to a few factors: That state history is often drilled into residents in school, that people are bad at math when it comes to estimating with small numbers, and a psychological tendency in people to think of themselves as better than average and to associate themselves with successful groups.