For USC Marshall School of Business professor S. Mark Young, the outlandish behavior of celebrities such as Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton and the results of the unfiltered media coverage of their exploits have found their way into his classroom and research.
Young, who co-authored the book The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America (Harper) with Drew Pinsky, sees understanding the possible underlying reasons for the self-destructive actions of these celebrities as relevant on two levels.
First, for the future entertainment industry executives who take his MBA-level “Management and Organization of the Creative Industries” class, understanding that narcissism may be a cause of certain celebrity behavior will help these future managers deal with their clients more effectively. On another level, he said, understanding celebrity narcissism and its effect on popular culture may also help break a cycle that rewards narcissistic tendencies.
“It’s caused a shift in our relationship with celebrity and normalizes self-harming behaviors and what in the past would have been considered scandalous – it’s also made fame the new currency for everyone from youth who are growing up with social networking sites, reality television, blogs and YouTube to business leaders making billion-dollar decisions,” said Young, who has joint appointments at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and at USC Marshall, where he holds the George Bozanic and Homan G. Hurt Chair in Sports and Entertainment Business. He has taught in USC Marshall’s MBA and Ph.D. programs since 1992.
According to Young and Pinsky, the “mirror effect” is the process by which provocative, shocking or otherwise troubling behavior has become normalized by media culture and is increasingly reflected in the behavior of the general population. “We’re sounding a warning alarm with this book,” said Young, who added that the book aims to provide a framework for understanding, addressing and combating this widespread cultural condition.
The research for the book is based on a 2006 study Pinsky and Young conducted while Pinsky was on the faculty as an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. The study, which was published in the Journal of Research in Personality, was the first systematic, empirical and scholarly study of celebrity personality and was based on a standardized test of narcissistic personality traits administered to 200 celebrities.
To conduct their research, Pinsky and Young employed a well-validated personality research instrument, the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, which has been in use for more than two decades. The research data were collected anonymously and confidentially from celebrities selected at random during guest appearances on Loveline, the nationally syndicated radio show based in Los Angeles.
The test divided narcissism into seven components: superiority, exhibitionism, entitlement, vanity, authority, exploitiveness and self-sufficiency.
The authors found that the celebrities had statistically significantly higher narcissism scores compared to aspiring business leaders (MBA students) and the general population.
Reality TV personalities had the highest overall scores when compared with actors, musicians and comedians. In addition, the authors found that people with narcissistic tendencies seem to be attracted to the entertainment industry rather than the industry creating narcissists.
“Based on our findings and the key concept that narcissism grows out of childhood trauma, we know that narcissists self-select into the industry,” Young said.
The test is also a part of the new book, which advises how to recognize warning signs and provides seven proactive steps everyone should take to keep narcissistic impulses under control.
Young pointed out that the book and study discuss the traits associated with narcissism, not the disorder itself. Moreover, some of the traits associated with narcissism are not necessarily negative, such as authority and self-sufficiency. “Traits like (these) can be associated with the type of work one does,” Young said, adding that the book is concerned with the darker elements of narcissism, such as exploiting others, entitlement and vanity.
Pinsky and Young will be talking about The Mirror Effect and signing books at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena on March 26 and at Borders Books & Music in Hollywood on March 30.
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