Monday, April 06, 2009

Psychology: New "syndrome" called "Academic Entitlement"

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editor Paul Greenberg writes about a supposed new disorder:
... a team of academics has written a paper about this sad trend. ("Self-Entitled College Students: Contributions of Personality, Parenting and Motivational Factors"). The syndrome now has a name (Academic Entitlement) and an abbreviation (AE) — just like Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

Doubtless there will soon be federal grants and endowed chairs to study AE and a drug to treat it. And sure enough, it'll turn out to be more widespread than anyone ever suspected.

The four scholars who did this Pioneering Study trace the origins of AE to parental pressure, material rewards for good grades, competitiveness, and "achievement anxiety and extrinsic motivation." They conclude that AE is "most strongly related to exploitive attitudes towards others and moderately related to an overall sense of entitlement and to narcissism."
Curiously, I finally got a chance to write about this today and - what do you know? - it's front page news here in in Ontario (a province of Canada) as well (Toronto Star, April 6, 2009):
James Côté, a sociology professor at the University of Western Ontario, says the survey confirms a lot of recent research, and that the decline in student preparedness began years ago but has more recently accelerated.

"It's a wider societal issue, where leisure is very much valued and work habits are not necessarily reinforced in the way that they were in the past. The work ethic is not what it used to be ... no pain, no gain doesn't seem to be prevalent any more."

Côté co-authored a book, Ivory Tower Blues: A University System in Crisis, that in part chronicled the issues professors have with today's students and he writes a blog where he hears from professors all the time.

With the current focus on stemming high-school dropouts, discipline and punctuality are not longer reinforced, and students come to university expecting to continue that, he added.
I've always regarded the claim that self-esteem (and the resulting sense of entitlement) were strong motivators for achievement as just another form of false knowledge (the things we "know" that ain't so). When I was young, I often saw girls who got 99% on a test beating themselves up emotionally for a single mistake, and boys who flaunted their drastically low scores in contempt for the system. (Some of those boys would be in jail not many years later, but there was no question who had the higher self-esteem They did.)

There are as many ways of explaining that situation as there are schools of psychology, but the idea that self-esteem is closely related to achievement has not turned out to be one of the good ones.