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Home » iGen: Narcissism and Neuroticism: Dr. Jean Twenge (Transcript)

iGen: Narcissism and Neuroticism: Dr. Jean Twenge (Transcript)

Transcript of JBP Podcast titled “iGen: Narcissism and Neuroticism” with Dr. Jean Twenge. In this episode, Dr Jordan B Peterson and Dr. Jean Twenge discuss the often volatile and unhealthy world of internet anonymity, trolling, trait neuroticism, and the effect of technology on our less independent, more narcissistic young adults- now referred to as the “iGen,” or “Internet Generation.”

TRANSCRIPT:

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Hello, everyone. I’m pleased today to be talking with a fellow research psychologist. Dr. Jean M. Twenge is the author of the recent iGen, why today’s super connected kids are growing up less rebellious, more tolerant, less happy and completely unprepared for adulthood. She is professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of more than 180 scientific publications and books. Her other published books include Generation Me, why today’s young Americans are more confident, assertive, entitled and more miserable than ever before. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, co-authored with W. Keith Campbell. The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant. Personality Psychology: Understanding Yourself and Others, co-authored with W. Keith Campbell and Social Psychology, co-authored with David G. Myers.

Dr. Twenge frequently gives talks and seminars on teaching and working with today’s young generation based on a data set of 11 million young people. Her audiences have included college faculty and staff, high school teachers, military personnel, camp directors and corporate executives. Her research has been covered by Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, USA Today, U.S. News and World Report and the Washington Post. And she has been featured on Today, Good Morning America, CBS This Morning, Fox and Friends, NBC Nightly News, Dateline NBC and National Public Radio.

THE PROLONGATION OF CHILDHOOD

Dr. Twenge holds a B.A. and M.A. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. She lives in San Diego with her husband and three daughters. I’m very much looking forward to talking to Dr. Twenge today, particularly about narcissism and online behavior among young people. You introduce the book, Who is iGen? How do we know? And then talk about chapter one, In No Hurry, Growing Up Slowly. That’s the prolongation of childhood. And so tell us about that and also about what you make of it.

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Yeah, so childhood really does last longer now. Kids are not as independent. And when they get to be teenagers, they’re just less likely to do all of these things that adults do and children don’t do. And it’s part of a bigger cultural story. It’s part of what evolutionary psychologists call a slow life strategy. So that means at times and places when people live longer, when health care is better and when education takes longer to finish, parents tend to make the choice to have fewer children and nurture them more carefully. So that’s a pretty good description of the way that we raise kids now. So you get that kids don’t walk to school by themselves as much.

And then when they’re teens, they are more reluctant to get their driver’s license or to go out or to date or have a paid job. And then by young adulthood, it takes longer for people to settle into a career and get married and have children. And then even older adults affects them, too, that 50 is the new 40 and people are healthy for longer. So the entire trajectory of life has really slowed down. And for iGen or Generation Z, where that really comes out is that their teen years are very different from their Gen X parents who remember, you know, going out, driving around in cars, getting in trouble, drinking alcohol, all of those things, and their kids don’t do that as much.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: So do you do you see this as a prolongation of childhood in a positive way because people have longer to live or because the cynic in me, I suppose the Freudian, too, thinks of this as a consequence of overprotective parenting and the inappropriate extension of childhood into adolescence. And I’m wondering, too, to what degree you talk about improvements in health care and transformations in technology, longer lifespan. To what degree is this also a consequence of the fact that people are older when they have children, that they have fewer children and that they’re wealthier, which all of that would make them in some sense more conservative, but also in some strange sense, more careful with their children and maybe even more inappropriately careful.

And especially the age of parents that’s increased over the years and the fact that there are fewer siblings, which also seems to me to tie into your work on narcissism because I think siblings tend to knock the narcissism out of each other. And so when you don’t have any, well, you definitely are a specialist, especially if your parents have been waiting for you for a long time.

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Yeah, so it’s definitely a function of people waiting longer to have kids. And as you said, they have more resources and they have fewer children. So when you think about this strategy, that’s what happens. It happens when there’s more security and when everything tends to slow down. And when there’s fewer kids, just from an evolutionary perspective and parents are going to protect them more, it’s also you just can’t keep track of them all when there’s a lot of them.

So my mother comes from a family like that. There were eight children in her family and a dairy farm in Minnesota, and they couldn’t possibly have run their dairy farm and kept track of every single one of the kids. So they’ve learned how to be independent very early on, but that was in the 1940s and 50s. And that was the standard at the time. Even families with fewer kids, it was normal for the children to go and play and it was be home at dinner or come home when the streetlights come on if you grew up in a more urban setting. But that was the idea of you kind of let kids do what they wanted to and that’s different now. And it’s not just from the parents.

So I think sometimes you just look at other the parents are overprotected. You miss some of the bigger cultural story that, I mean, this has been codified into law in a lot of places. In the state of Illinois, you’re not allowed to leave a child alone until they’re 14 years old, which to a Gen Xer is ridiculous.

THE LOSS OF INDEPENDENCE

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Right. So do you see this, how do you evaluate this as a psychologist? Do you just see this as a part of the normal variation in parenting behavior as a consequence of technological transformation? Or do you see something that’s permanently affecting people’s capability of maturing?

DR. JEAN TWENGE: You know, I think it’s some of both. It is part of technology, certainly, that all of these causes are rooted in technology, better health care, education taking longer for a more complex society and more knowledge that pushes toward that slow life strategy. So it’s an adaptation. It’s an adaptation to a particular place in time.

So there’s trade-offs. Neither a slow life strategy or a fast life strategy is all good or all bad. There are some clear advantages. The kids are not growing up as fast. Most parents are thrilled that not as many teens are having sex or drinking alcohol. But there is the downside. The downside is that we have a generation growing to adulthood who doesn’t have as much experience with independence. And it’s difficult, often, for them to make decisions on their own.

So when I travel around the universities, this is what I hear very consistently. I have more and more students who can’t make even simple decisions without texting their parents. And to take the perspective of this young generation too, which I think is important, it makes sense. This is not necessarily how they asked to be raised. This is the culture that they grew up in. And they arrive at university without those experiences of making those decisions. And it’s really, really hard for them to do that and to make that adjustment. So that’s the big downside. So that’s where I think, as you said, you can be more of a cynic or a critic and say, this is definitely not all good.

I do hesitate to use the word maturity, though, because is it more mature or less mature to drink alcohol when you’re 17? It’s really neither one. So I think it’s better to focus on that it’s slower development. Not necessarily better, not necessarily worse, but slower.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Yeah, well, there were studies of alcohol use, I remember, conducted when I was studying alcohol several decades ago, looking at, let’s say, life outcomes among teenagers as a consequence of their proclivity to break rules. And the findings basically were that, and this is probably what you’d expect, is that the kids who broke no rules were much more likely to be dependent, depressed, and anxious. And the kids that broke too many rules were much more likely to be antisocial, right, and criminal. And so there’s a sweet spot in the middle, like there is so often, where a certain amount of experimentation is exactly what you’d hope for. And the question would be, if the proclivity of young people to drink less alcohol, and I mean, alcohol is pretty damn toxic, it’s a bad drug, all things considered, is a net good because they’re delaying their experimentation. That’s probably neurologically healthy, at least with regards to the effects of alcohol. But if it means that they’re doing less experimentation in general, then the question is what the long term consequences are. I mean, if it’s only a delayed maturation, then in some sense, it doesn’t make that much difference. But if it’s a permanent abdication of maturation, then that’s a completely different issue.

And you also mentioned cell phones and texting parents. I mean, one of the ways that people learn to make decisions before there were cell phones is that they didn’t really have a choice. Because if you were away from your parents in a car, you were actually away, unless you could get to a payphone, let’s say. But even then, that wasn’t necessarily all that likely, and you’d have to go search one out. And so you were on your own. It wasn’t just that you were acting like it. And now, because you’re connected all the time with this electronic tether, especially, I would say, if your parents are somewhat anxious, then well, under what circumstances should you make your own decisions? And that was never a choice before. And those sorts of things become problematic when they become a choice.

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Yeah, no, I agree. I mean, that’s the other piece that technology plays. And it is, yeah, even when you’re at university, you can constantly contact your parents in a way that didn’t use to be possible. And the other part of it too, and this gets to some of the other trends in the book, is that socializing for teens has moved online. And so you think about a lot of those things on that list that adults do and children don’t, where a lot of them involve getting out of the house and hanging out with friends and getting in a car, usually to go be with other people. And that doesn’t happen as much now because the party is on Snapchat or on Instagram. So that’s the other way that technology is playing a role, is there’s so much more interaction online and less face-to-face.

THE SOCIAL DISTANCE OF SOCIAL MEDIA

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: And so what do you think that, let me run some hypotheses about online behavior by me, by you, and let me, and you tell me what you think. I’ve read tens of thousands of comments on YouTube and on Twitter and so forth, and tried to, many of which I find almost unbearably infuriating, which is very interesting reactions. I don’t think it’s unique to me. And the reaction I have often is something like, when an anonymous troll posts something particularly caustic, I think, if you dared say anything like that to me, to my face, even once, there would be so much trouble surrounding you immediately that you can hardly imagine it.

But online, you know, there is this social distancing phenomenon that’s well known to social psychologists and personality psychologists, that if you’re, even if you’re in your car and thereby sheltered, let’s say, from immediate interpersonal feedback, you’re much more likely to act in a self-centered and self-aggrandizing manner because you miss that immediate feedback. And there’s absolutely no consequence whatsoever to behaving in a narcissistic and self-centered manner online, as far as I can tell. And then that tends to promote, especially for people who are rather disinhibited to begin with, that promotes a kind of self-aggrandizing narcissism that would be absolutely unthinkable in real life.

And then you wonder, well, if that’s happening all the time online, how much of that becomes a habitual mode of thought? And what do you think of that?

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Well, you know, it’s classic social psychology, right? That when people are anonymous, they’re much more likely to be aggressive, you know, physically, verbally. And so absolutely, that’s one of the primary issues or challenges with online interaction is we’re not face-to-face. We can’t see the look on the other person’s face when we say something caustic or, you know, highly critical or insulting. So because we did, if you have any modicum of social skills, you wouldn’t do that. So it’s not a real-time back and forth and you’re not seeing those facial expressions. And so, you know, all that is lost. And so it becomes contentious much more quickly. It becomes negative much more quickly, aggressive. You know, all of that goes on. It’s just kind of the way that the interaction goes.

And is that narcissism per se? I’m not sure I would label it that way exactly. It’s more that it’s anonymous and thus it frees people to just go with their base impulses, especially around aggression.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Well, especially you’d think it would free people who are prone to have those proclivities to do that as well. And I also think that that’s more true of people who harbor a fair bit of resentment and who are relatively cowardly, because if they’re resentful, well, then they’re going to be looking for the opportunity to use derision in particular. Like I’ve noticed on YouTube, the markers for pathological behavior seem to me to be quite clear. The first marker is an anonymous account. And I think those are appalling. The social media companies should have know your customer laws like banks do, and they should put the damn anonymous trolls in their own pit of hell. No, it shouldn’t be mixed in with the real people.

And then often the worst anonymous accounts have a demonic sounding name. And so there’s something about the name that is derisive or often literally demonic. They pick some moniker that’s appalling in the most fundamental metaphoric way. And then they tend to use derisive nicknames and acronyms like laugh out loud or LMFAO or WTF. There’s this casual use of derision and contempt. There’s a great study done. I don’t remember who did it, unfortunately, looking at predictors of marital breakup as a consequence of interpersonal interaction between the pairs of a couple. And the best predictor of imminent marital breakup was eye rolling. So the manifestation of contempt. What’s that?

DR. JEAN TWENGE: John Gottman.

NARCISSISM AND CONTEMPT

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Yeah, that’s right. Gottman, Gottman. Yeah. And so it’s that use of contempt in particular, you know, and also I read Hitler’s table talk. And that’s a collection of his spontaneous speeches at meal times aggregated by his secretarial staff over about four years. And I was looking at descriptive term usage, trying to understand his thought processes. And it’s pretty damn obvious that Hitler wasn’t afraid of the Jews or the other people that he conducted genocide against. His fundamental emotional attitude towards such people was derisive contempt and disgust. There’s something particularly toxic about disgust and contempt. And there’s something about online commentary in particular that really brings that forward.

And then you have the other problem, I would say, too, which is that in some sense, the online world and this is the world that the iGen kids are immersed in is — it’s a faux celebrity world. Right, because everyone online in some sense is a celebrity of different proportions. They have their followers, they have their fans, let’s say. And then the whole enterprise seems to facilitate image management. I know on I think it’s TikTok, there are real time facial feature adjustments filters so that you can make this — girls use them more than boys for obvious reasons. You can make your lips plumper and redder. You can make your eyes bigger. You can anime yourself. You can cutify yourself to coin a terrible term. And you can do that in real time. And all of the or much of the reinforcement pressure seems to be directed towards attention seeking.

And then that combined with the fact that there are almost no consequences for misbehavior seems to produce a pretty, first of all, a toxic social environment, but also one that doesn’t follow the same rules as actual face to face contact, which I think is the bigger danger.

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Yeah. And, you know, I think the online world has followed interesting trajectory when it comes to attention seeking and narcissism and so on. So the one constant, you’re right. The trolls, the ones who are the worst offenders. Yeah. Sociopaths, narcissists, clearly they’ve shown that in research. But for everybody else, I think early on, social media was something that pulled for that attention seeking. And you got that narcissism there of, you know, look at me. I’m on MySpace and I have this many followers and here’s all of my pictures and so on.

But then when social media became more mandatory, which is really what it became for iGen around the early 2000s, 2010s, I mean, when, you know, almost 80 percent, 85 percent or so of high school students are doing that every single day on social media then and everybody’s participating. Well, not everybody can get attention. So then it becomes this competition.

So it I think at that point became less about narcissism for most people and more about not measuring up. And that’s right. And that’s where — so that’s when you start to get — I have to use these enhancement filters because I don’t look as good as everybody else online and I must be, you know, unattractive because I don’t have as many likes and followers as I want to have. And then all of the other things, I’m not interacting with someone face to face. I’m not getting the same emotional connection and that people are automatically more negative and hostile. I mean, there’s so many things going on in that online interaction. Once, especially once it became mandatory, that pulled not even really for narcissism, but more for anxiety and depression.

TRAIT NEUROTICISM

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Right, right. So maybe that’s part of the reason that you’ve been picking up these and indicating these increases in mental health symptoms among young people. Well, the other thing I’m wondering about, too, I’ve thought about this to a great degree, is that I studied antisocial behavior in boys and girls and boys, they’re pretty much straightforward juvenile delinquents when they’re antisocial. They kick and fight and steal and break rules. And it’s a lot of externalizing behavior, a lot of acting out.

But girls who are antisocial, they use reputation destruction and innuendo and gossip and backbiting, and they can be unbelievably good at it. And everyone knows that. I mean, Mean Girls, that famous movie, was about precisely that. And the thing about social media that’s one of the things about it that’s quite interesting and disturbing is that female type antisocial behavior scales brilliantly online. Because it can be done behind the scenes, it can be done anonymously, it can be done with that derisive contempt, let’s say. And the consequences are vanishingly small. And so I can imagine that teenage girls who are often subject to bullying by other girls, are now subject to bullying in a way that’s much more subtle and much more devious and much more continuous. Because that’s the other thing that happens to young people now is, can you imagine being a teenager where nothing you ever did would be forgotten?

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Right, right. And it’s 24 seven, it’s always with you, because that’s the way they communicate with their friends, that is the lifeline to the world. And so used to be, maybe you got bullied at school, you could come home and get away from it. And now there’s no escape. And it is particularly toxic for girls. I mean, think about Instagram. Instagram, it bases a platform where primarily girls and young women post pictures of themselves and ask other people to comment.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Jesus, brutal.

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Right? It absolutely is brutal. And popularity becomes a number, likes and followers, and cyber bullying, all the things that we’re talking about, just it is a toxic suit.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Well, I remember, you know, we did psychometric analysis and looked at the psychometric analysis of thought patterns that loaded on trait neuroticism. And so, as you know, well, but I’ll explain to everyone else, trait neuroticism is something like your baseline level of the proclivity to experience negative emotion, like depression and anxiety. And one of the things that’s quite striking is that self conscious thoughts load so heavily on neuroticism, they’re almost indistinguishable from emotions. And so it looks like, if you’re self conscious, if you’re thinking about yourself, you are instantly miserable.

And then if you’re a teenage, then it gets worse for teenage girls, I think, because we also know that teenage girls experience a spike in neuroticism that’s attendant on puberty, and that their self conscious concerns tend to be particularly body focused. And that’s probably a consequence of the fact that females are evaluated more stringently as a consequence of their appearance, particularly when they’re young. I mean, men are evaluated on the basis of their performance, let’s say, but women tend to be evaluated more on the basis of their appearance.

And so you can see that’s a perfect storm for young girls, because they hit a negative emotion peak at 13. Now they’re susceptible to bullying, they’re extremely self conscious about their bodies. And then the entire online world is a place to display for public. It’s like the old nightmare that people have about public speaking is being naked on a stage. That’s really, in some real sense, what the social media world has done to teenage girls. It’s got to be damn near unbearable.

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Yeah, and the consequences have been severe. So teen depression has doubled. And that was true even before the pandemic, the rise started about 2011 or 2012, right as social media moved from optional to mandatory. And right when smartphones were owned by the majority of people, loneliness went up, anxiety went up. And it’s not just symptoms, self harm behavior. So the CDC keeps track of this emergency room visits for self harm. So that’s an objectively measured behavior, not something subject to any kind of self report bias. And self harm among 10 to 14 year old girls has quadrupled in the last 12 years.

PERSONALITY CHARACTERISTICS OF INTERNET TROLLS

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, that’s a logical extension of feelings of inadequacy and depression and anxiety. No, a non specific marker. Now, you mentioned earlier also, and I thought this was very interesting. A couple of things I wanted to touch on. The first was that you indicated that there was some research on anonymous trolls and their personality characteristics. And then you also said that the self aggrandizing element of the web, of web presence was spearheaded in some sense by the narcissists. But then once it became mandatory, it was more of a catch up game for people who were experiencing fairly high levels of neuroticism, something like that.

So let’s start with the research, because I’m very interested in the trolls, because I think I think one of the things the trolls are doing online by the use of derision and contempt in the manner that they do spew it forward, especially on platforms like Twitter, you see it also on YouTube and other platforms, is that they raise the ambient social temperature to a great degree. It’s like externalized pollution in the real world. It’s psychological pollution. They say things that no one should possibly be allowed to get away with in the public forum. They spew their venom forward and it makes everything appear more polarized and caustic than it really is. And so who are these people, the anonymous trolls, as far as the research indicates?

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Well, I mean, the narcissism does have a good amount to do with it. So back when Facebook was the prominent platform for young adults, there were a number of studies on this showing that people who are high in narcissistic personality traits have more friends on Facebook and they comment there more and they participate more. So what that means is your average interaction on social media is more likely to be with a narcissist. Not in the majority, maybe, but it ups the odds compared to your average conversation face to face. So those are platforms where narcissists thrive. And you’re absolutely right that they’re the ones who are willing to say those things. And we know now, too, that the algorithms on social media tend to amplify things that are divisive, things that are angry because they get more of what they call engagement. That’s what people engage with more and that’s how the companies make more money. So those tend to be pushed to the top of people’s social media feeds.

So you are getting a relatively small population who’s dominating this conversation and kind of, I don’t know how else to put it, but ruining for the rest of us.

MARKERS OF UNIQUENESS, GENDER DYSPHORIA

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Well, you know, I thought for a long time that a lot of the conditions that we diagnose as psychopathology aren’t malfunctions, let’s say, of evolutionarily adapted structures. That was one definition that cropped up a fair while ago, but more like positive feedback loops that have gone out of control. So you see this with agoraphobia, right? People start to withdraw instead of approaching when they’re anxious and that makes their anxiety worse, so they’re more likely to withdraw.

You see it with depression because depressed people are less likely to interact socially and then they start to withdraw and that makes them more depressed. They’re less likely to go to work and so forth. You see it with alcohol because people who develop alcohol tolerance start to drink to cure their hangover. And so there’s a lot of pathological processes that are feedback loops that have gone out of control. And if the narcissists are garnering excess attention online and the algorithms are amplifying that, then we have the makings of something like a virtual social epidemic.

And it does look like that to me. I’m trying to understand what’s driving the polarization and divisiveness. And I do think that I think a lot of it’s virtual in some real sense because the online world and the real world have become so dissociated and so distinct that they don’t even look like the same place anymore. You see that with media, but you also see it with the things that are so troublesome to people online that don’t seem to make themselves manifest in the real world at all. So we’ve got this weird divorce that’s a consequence of this layer of abstraction that’s the online world. And it’s producing its own associated pathologies that rise in self-destructive behavior. That’s absolutely, that’s cataclysmically awful.

Let me add another bit of pathology to this. Tell me what you think of this. So you know, of course, that there’s been an absolute explosion in childhood gender dysphoria. And it made sense to me that that occurred because we added confusion to the definition of male and female, let’s say. And when you confuse people, you confuse the most confused the most. And that often tends to be young girls around 13. And they’re the ones that are prone to psychogenic epidemics. And they’re the ones that are experiencing much higher rates than normal of so-called gender dysphoria.

Now, I’m curious about your thoughts on that in relationship to attention-seeking. Because if we took that group of the more neurotic catch-up players on social media, they need a marker of uniqueness or status in order to attract attention to themselves. And it seems to me that this emphasis on multidimensional sexual identity provides an easy avenue to the kind of uniqueness that might scale well on social media. Does any of that make any sense to you? Is that a reasonable hypothesis?

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Well, it’s really hard because these trends are so new. And we don’t yet have, you know, really solid statistics. That’s actually something that I worked on for my new book. So I’ll be able to talk about that a little bit more next year. Because like that has to be the first step is we have to say, is this actually increasing? Because it certainly seems that way. But we need that data to figure that out.

THE POWER OF ONLINE COMMUNITIES

And then the why question is an even harder one to answer. Because some, of course, have made the argument that, well, there’s more acceptance now. And so that’s why, you know, there are more people who are coming out as transgender. But there is the whole question, which I think is a good, we have to explore it at least, about what is the role of the online communities in this. Because there are some folks who have said it’s a positive thing that the thing about online communities is if you’re in a relatively unique group, you can find other people like you. And then that can be beneficial.

But there are some who argue that that may not be as beneficial. And it’s just so early, I think we just don’t really know.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: It’s probably beneficial if the group that you’re pursuing is pursuing beneficial aims that are part of your character. Like if you have a particular creative proclivity, or a particular interest in a set of ideas, and you can find a group that will support you in that, that’s not much different than what happens to kids who are smart when they go off to university, if universities are working properly.

But if you’re anorexic, and you find a community that’s devoted to ensuring that you do think that you’re fat, and helping you figure out ways to restrict your food, and normalizing that, then obviously that’s not helpful at all. Quite the contrary. And so, and it is a peculiar fact that statistically unlikely proclivities can be normalized very rapidly online as a consequence of the generation of community. Because as you know, we tend to regard ourselves in relationship to the peer group, the immediate peer group that we formulate around us. And so, if you’re one in 10,000 in your peculiarity, but you have 20 people around you who are the same, it’s going to feel pretty damn normal pretty quick.

And if you’re truly exceptional, that’s a good thing. But a lot of what constitutes truly exceptional is manifested on the pathological side. And well, and we don’t know the consequence of community building on that front yet.

DR. JEAN TWENGE: I think that’s correct, that in general, what the internet allows people to do is to create those communities based on some of these unique identities. And that can be used for good. So a gay kid in a small town who doesn’t know anybody else like them can find a community. But then on the other hand, someone who wants to be anorexic and encourage other young girls and young women to be anorexic, they can also find each other. And that has some pretty negative consequences.

RATES OF PSYCHOPATHY

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Right. Well, and there’s also the facilitation of online predation as a consequence of the irresponsibility that anonymity allows too. So if you are an isolated young person and you’re searching around for an identity group, you’re just quite nicely likely to run into somebody who’s psychopathically predacious online as well. And that happens in no small percentage of cases. I’ve known a number of adolescents who got tangled up with someone pretty damn nasty online, much to their parents’ chagrin. And so that’s especially true on the sexual exploitation front.

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Yes. And that’s primarily because social media is so unregulated. So there’s no age verification. For example, you can be 36 and say that you’re 13. You can be nine and say that you’re 16 or 13 to be able to get an account. You’re supposed to be 13 to get a social media account, but it’s not enforced. So there’s very young children who are on it. And then adults and children can communicate with each other. And that has led, unfortunately, yeah, to a lot of sexual predation and other really unfortunate situations.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Yeah. Well, you know, we can think about this from an evolutionary biology perspective, I think for a moment or two, that might be interesting. So I know that the rates of psychopathy appear to vary between about one and five percent cross-culturally. And so I talked to David Buss about various theories about that percentage.

And so the first observation is it’s actually not very effective to be a power-mad psychopath. Right. So 95 to 97 percent of people aren’t. And the reason for that is it’s really not a very effective strategy. You even have to run away from yourself eventually if you’re a psychopath. And they tend to have itinerant lifestyles because people cotton on to their narcissistic Machiavellianism sooner or later and then can identify them.

Now, it might be more useful, biologically speaking, to be a predatory psychopath than to be someone who’s so depressed and isolated that they never go out of the house. So you could think about it as a strategy of — a reproductive strategy that doesn’t always culminate in failure. And that’s especially true because young women are less likely to be able to distinguish psychopathic predators from confident and competent males. So, okay, so you open up a window for psychopathy.

And then the windows opened up, too, because most people are cooperative and productive and generous, at least in the main. But what that means is that a small percentage of people can capitalize on that by mimicking it. And the psychopaths mimic that by being confident and assertive and appearing competent, even though they’re predators and parasitic in their fundamental orientation. Now, those people, that one to five percent, present an unbelievable constant danger to the integrity of societies, right? It doesn’t take that many people to destabilize a complex society. And certainly three percent is more than enough.

And normally, the psychopaths are kept under some regulatory control because they get identified and isolated and punished. But I don’t think that happens online. And so I don’t know to what degree. Look, psychopaths don’t learn from punishment very well at all, and they don’t learn from threat very well at all. But online, all of that’s been removed. There’s nothing but a field of opportunity for predatory psychopaths.

And so I wonder to what degree virtualizing communication and opening up this hypothetically democratic front has actually magnified the degree to which our societies are susceptible to disruption by Machiavellian psychopaths.

IGEN AND INSECURITY

DR. JEAN TWENGE: That is absolutely possible because, yeah, I mean, there’s the trolls and all of those folks who get into those situations. They too often absolutely get away with that. You know, I think some people might argue that, well, they might get lots of negative comments and, you know, sometimes they do get punished or canceled. But it’s not usually the way it goes because, yeah, they have a lot of tricks. They can be charming. They can fake their way through it. And they do often get away with a lot, just partially because things are so unregulated. It’s the wild, wild west.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Well, they can also generate multiple identities. So even if one of their identities gets punished, well, first of all, they’re not likely to be very affected by negative feedback to begin with, especially not of the psychological sort, because the typical psychopath doesn’t give a damn what you think. Like, they might react with some degree of surprise if you actually hit them. But if you just said something that might disturb a person with normal conscience, let’s say, the psychopath is going to brush that off. And so…

DR. JEAN TWENGE: True.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Yeah. Yeah. So, okay. So let’s go through a little bit more about iGen. You talked about insecure, the new mental health crisis, and also irreligious. Irreligious, losing my religion and spirituality. So let’s talk about insecurity to begin with. And so we discussed that a little bit. Are there other elements that are making… So kids can’t… Everything they do is remembered. Everything they do is monitored. They’re tethered to their parents 100% of the time. They’re glued to a screen. They’re not engaging in face-to-face social contact the way they were. They don’t have their independence. Are there other factors, as far as you can tell, that are rendering them more insecure?

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Well, for one thing, they’re not sleeping enough. And the percentage of teens who don’t get enough sleep started to rise. And again, right at the time that social media became common and smartphones became common, right around 2012, and right before the pandemic, reached all-time highs in two different surveys. So when you don’t sleep enough, that’s a major risk factor for developing depression and self-harm. And it’s not just the timing, not just that the timing lines up with technology. It’s also that kids are spending so much time online that it crowds out time for sleeping. And looking at a phone before bed or having it in your bedroom is uniquely awful for getting a good night’s sleep and for getting enough sleep. We know from tons of sleep lab studies that that’s the case.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: And is that a light issue as well as an overuse issue?

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Yeah, that’s part of it. Yeah. So there’s a couple things going on. So one is if you have that phone in your bedroom overnight, that part of your brain knows it’s there. And pretty much, when I was writing the book, pretty much every young person I talked to said that they had their phone within arm’s reach when they were sleeping. And almost all of them said, well, I have to have it in my room because that’s my alarm clock. And I would reply, then buy an alarm clock. You can buy it on Amazon on your phone and then put it away, get a good night’s sleep.

But before bed, there’s two elements. First, psychological stimulation. Pretty much everything that we do on phones and tablets is stimulating, whether it’s reading news or shopping or email or texting. And then imagine being 12 years old and you’re waiting for your crush to text you back. Not relaxing thoughts, right?

And then the light issue, that the blue light from the devices, especially when held close to the face, tricks our brains into thinking that it’s still daytime and then we don’t produce enough melatonin, sleep hormone, to fall asleep quickly and get a good night’s sleep. So there’s so many different factors in the way that technology is disrupting sleep. And that may be a major mechanism for why we have such a high rate of depression and truly a mental health crisis among adolescents.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: And do you have any idea what the relative strength of these contributors are? We talked about the necessity to put forward a false and perfect face. We talked about the possibility of being bullied online, that things can’t be forgotten. And now we had a really a biological element to this, which is sleep disruption as a consequence of the potential for new information, excitement before bed in the form of exposure to all these pathological social tendencies we already described and exposure to blue light. Is there any research at all that’s parsing out the relative contributions of these different factors to the rise in depression and anxiety?

FAITH IS FALLING, MEANING IS HARDER TO FIND

DR. JEAN TWENGE: It’s a great question. And I don’t think we really know. I mean, what we have is more individual level correlational data, which is going to have some different factors in those generational and group trends. But sleep definitely has the largest correlation with depression and unhappiness among those factors. But it also, of course, depends on the individual because for some kids, yeah, they may have that phone away from them at night. But then if they’re getting bullied and feel terrible about their body all day long, that can also have those severe consequences. So it’s hard to say.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Well, those things tend to loop too. So many, many things can contribute to sleep disruption. And then once sleep gets disrupted, well, then all those other things tend to get worse. And that’s all a downhill spiral. So, yeah, so that’s rough too. Unexpected consequences of technological innovation, especially on the light front. Yeah, that’s a rough one.

You talked about irreligious and losing my religion and spirituality. And so that’s an interesting measurement, let’s say, or an interesting issue to focus on. And so tell me about the significance of that.

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Yeah, so we’ve known for a while that the number of people who affiliate with a religion or attend religious services has gone down, especially among teens and young adults. But there were kind of these theories for a while like, okay, well, young people are not as interested in institutions and joining a group. So that’s why that’s gone down. But privately, they still pray and believe in God. Well, as of about 15 years ago, that also started to go down. So that theory had to be discarded because even private religious beliefs started to decline.

Then you got the theory of, oh, well, they’re not religious, but they’re more spiritual. The data doesn’t back that one up either from the surveys that number of people say that they’re a spiritual person has stayed fairly constant, even while the number of people saying they’re religious has gone way down. And then among university students, fewer say that they feel like they’re above average in spirituality. So not religious, not particularly spiritual either. And you get a decline in the number of young people who say that finding meaning and purpose in life is important, that developing a meaningful philosophy of life is important.

So all of these intrinsic things, these intrinsic values and goals have become less important.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Those all seem to be medium to long-term goals, right? So to develop a purpose in life, to develop a philosophy of life, to aim at an integrated spirituality. And one of the things that the web does particularly well is capitalize on short-term attentional, well, let’s just call it short-term attention, right? It’s the next hot thing. It’s like it’s the 24-hour news cycle in some sense broken down into 30-second bits. And you can distract yourself endlessly with those sorts of things. I mean, I’m saying this too, obviously, as a prolific creator of more long-form content, but we use TikTok and Instagram and these shorter forms as well to communicate with.

But you can certainly feed yourself on a steady diet of 15 to 30-second clips, and they are engaging in the moment. It’s like a nonstop procession of personalized ads in some real sense, and it often is ads. And so that seems to be happening at the expense of these medium to long-term commitments that might be indicative of maturity and adulthood and spirituality, religious orientation, civic duty, all of that. Maybe that’s contributing to that immaturity as well, the maintenance of that short-term attention.

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Because that’s the experience so many people have online, especially in platforms like TikTok. You’re just watching all of these short videos, and then before you know it, an hour has gone by, an hour of your life you’re not going to get back. And it is just that what’s immediate, and you have to respond to your friend’s post right away and make a comment or say that you like it. And it’s all of that immediacy that isn’t really focused on the long-term in a way, which is funny because in other ways, this generation, iGen or Generation Z, has been taught to focus on the long-term. So they’re not doing that on their phones, but then in terms of goals around careers and going to college and university and all of those things, they do focus on that. And it’s been ingrained in them that they have to be long-term planners and make sure that they’re thinking about each step of their lives. So they have that disconnect between what adults are telling them to do for the plans for their life and then what the way that they’re living online.

TRADING SELF-RELIANCE FOR “EMOTIONAL SAFETY”

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Right, right, right. So and then insulated but not intrinsic, more safety and less community. What does that mean?

DR. JEAN TWENGE: So the safety piece was interesting because when I first started the book, it wasn’t something that was really on my radar screen. But the more I talked to young people in this generation and the more I looked at what had really changed in society, safety was a major, major theme that kept coming up over and over.

And again, there’s trade-offs. The upside is that there’s been so much emphasis on the safety of children and teens that that’s worked. A lot fewer teens getting car accidents or any kind of injuries. Same thing with children, all of these safety things that we put in place have really done a good job. But it’s not just protecting kids from physical dangers that society’s focused on. In many ways, it has shifted to also protecting kids from having experiences, from being upset, from failure, from all of these learning experiences.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: From adventure.

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Yeah, from absolutely from taking risks. And what’s really interesting is Gen Z has not rebelled against that, which is what you might expect adolescents to do. They have embraced it. So they’re less likely to say they want to take risks, say, when they’re 16, 15 years old.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: What happened to teenage rebelliousness? That was something that was such a pronounced characteristic of being a teenager. You also touched on that when you mentioned that so many fewer kids are getting their driver’s license. And that was just incomprehensible to me when I first became aware of it, because I remember when I was 14, 15, every single person I knew was just absolutely, they were lined up outside the driver’s license office like an hour before their birthday to get their license. That was top of the priority. And part of that was to be able to get away and to be autonomous.

And so, why do you think that that spirit of adolescent rebelliousness has vanished to such a great degree?

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Yeah, there’s a lot of different factors, but you know, a lot of it is just that has been the way that society has shifted in so many ways, is placing safety as the top priority, not just physically, but also, and Gen Z in particular likes to talk about this, emotional safety. So, and many of them told me that they thought emotional safety was just as important as physical safety, that that was one of the reasons they were scared of social interactions, because you never know what someone might say to you.

And to a Gen Xer like me, I was like, well, yeah, that’s how it works. But they’re used to texting and being able to compose their response, and to not have to worry about the look on their face when they read what someone else, you know, has said. So, that’s one factor that comes in there. And then it is also just with the slow life strategy and other changes in parenting and in culture in general, in how we treat young people, that yes, it’s good that we have tried to protect them from a lot of these dangers, but we have also coddled them in some ways that has done them a real disservice, that we have not prepared them for adulthood, that we have not let them take as many risks and learn from that and have adventure and all those things.

MODERN PARENTING VALUES HAPPINESS OVER GROWTH

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Well, that risk of direct communication is an interesting one. I heard a comedian in UK at a free speech comedy event who said that she had gone to a university to do a comedy show, and they gave her a list of topics that were off limits, which is a hell of a thing to do to a comedian. And then not only that, they gave all the student attendees these badges, and if the badge were green, if the badge was green that you were wearing, then other people could talk to you without your permission, including the comedian. But if you didn’t have a green badge, yeah, no kidding, but, and I didn’t have any, I thought that was pathological beyond comprehension, but it’s so protective that it’s positively eatable.

But, you know, you just put your finger on something interesting, which is if you’re accustomed to being able to formulate your response thoughtfully, you’re doing that by text, for example, then the immediacy of interpersonal contact might be off-putting to you. Like, I mean, I don’t know how isolated the kids are who only use their phones. I’m sure, do we know, for example, if this is more true of introverted kids? Like, are the introverted neurotics even more likely to use their phone and text instead of engaging in any face-to-face interaction?

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Well, maybe, but then on the other hand, extroverts send more texts because they have more social interactions and social relationships in general. So there’s some kind of cross currents there that might be hard to tease out. But the neuroticism piece, that would make sense, more likely maybe to text than, say, have a phone conversation where that might be more anxiety provoking.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Chapter eight is income insecurity, working to earn but not to shop. And you talk a bit about shopping in the iGen book, about the fact that that also feeds into this self-centeredness in some sense, that money is for, it’s consumerism gone mad. And of course, that’s promoted by the social media networks that are monetizing teenage attention. And you said that teenagers are also much less likely to have, to be engaged in gainful employment, which was obviously a step towards maturation for many people in previous generations, or maybe the actual catalyst for maturation, apart from relationships.

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Yeah. And they’re less likely to get an allowance as well. So when you don’t have a job and you don’t have an allowance and you’re not learning how to manage your own money. So it’s more that your parents will give you money. And so that’s another aspect where they’re not learning as much about how to make decisions is around money.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Yeah. Well, it’s very, this brings up the issue in some sense of optimal deprivation. You have older parents, you have fewer siblings, your parents, in some sense, care more for you. You might even, in some way, have a closer relationship with them. But then the question is, is it too close? But how do you deprive your children properly under certain circumstances so that they’re motivated to go do things on their own? And again, when that becomes a choice, it’s very difficult to say no all the time when you could be saying yes.

DR. JEAN TWENGE: It’s the dilemma of modern parenting. And I think where that comes up often the most is around technology. So it’s not just in mom, you know, I want to buy this thing or the other thing. I think a lot, I have three kids myself, two of whom are teenagers. And what I know from my fellow parents, as well as my own experience, is that there’s always, I want the smartphone and I want the social media app. And why can’t I do it? Because everybody else is doing it. And that’s the dilemma.

And modern parenting is supposed to be, well, I want to make my kids happy. And usually you think it’s going to be easier to make them happy by saying yes. But then if you say yes to some of these things, what’s going to happen? It’s all the potential consequences that we’ve been talking about. But it’s difficult because, of course, not everybody is going to have the very negative outcomes. Some people are going to be on social media and be fine, but you don’t know which bucket your kid’s going to end up in until they use it.

So then if you’re the cautious parent who says, I’m not going to get my kid a phone until she’s 16 or 18, you’re going to be the only one in a high school of 1,500 people who doesn’t have one. And same thing with social media. So it’s a very difficult dilemma right now as the parent of teenagers.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Chapter nine is inclusive LGBT, gender and race issues in the new age. When I first read sections of this chapter, I thought, well, this strikes me as predictable in some sense, given the virtualization of everything. You know, one of the things that being online allows you to do is to experiment with different identities that are disposable and that are virtual. And then I also thought that to the degree that childhood is being extended and may be interfered with, especially at the early stages when pretend play should be occurring, and there’s so much screen time, that experimentation with identity, which is a form of play, might be being extended out into adolescence and further on.

So you get virtualization and the extension of fantasy play. It’s not surprising to me that iGen young people would be, what would you describe it as, very open in relationship to their proclaimed identity, especially also if they’re earning attention points for announcing a non-standard identity and also having no other identity to replace it with in some real sense.

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Well, I think there’s a lot of other factors at work here, too, because, of course, these trends have been going on for longer. So as opposed to, say, some of the mental health trends, which really didn’t start to appear until 2012, the rise in, say, support for same-sex marriage and the embrace of LGBT identities, that’s been building for a longer time. So we see that also even for Gen Xers and Millennials, that that’s been rolling out for quite a long time. So I think it’s also a function of individualism, and that was a major theme in Generation Me, my book on the Millennials, and it still is a different flavor for iGen or Gen Z, but it’s absolutely still present that we have the growth in North American culture that’s always been individualistic, but has become much more so, especially since the late 1960s. So more focus on the self, less focus on social rules, and what you get with individualism is the acceptance of difference and that people will be who they are.

And so that, I think, is that it’s also a natural consequence of more individualism, that you will get more acceptance of different sexual orientations.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Right. Well, it’s a strange individualism, though, because it’s based, again, on what you might describe as maximization of short-term identity. So the claim is, I can be whoever I want, and all social regulation of that is nothing but an imposition, which is really not true at all, because most of the time, following social principles allows you to form relationships with other people and opens up horizons of opportunity to you. That’s the benefit of sacrificing not exactly individuality, but short-term individual whim. And it’s something that children learn as they mature, right? They can’t get everything they want right now, but the payoff for that is that they can get along with other people and that things work better over the long run.

And that all, that, I would say, understanding that and then abiding by that principle of medium to long-term well-being is something like maturation. And this individualism that you’re describing isn’t really, I don’t think it’s really, it’s not an enlightened individualism because it’s too short-term. It’s more like, well, I am whatever I feel I am right at this moment. And to me, that smacks of, well, nothing more than, in some real sense, like a two-year-old immaturity. And I mean that technically, because two-year-olds are very whim-oriented, very, very short-term and very self-centered. They can’t play with other people.

SELF ESTEEM, A PROXY FOR NEUROTICISM

And so, you have the dissolution of identity, right? There’s no community, no real community, not in terms of community organization, but also not in terms of real face-to-face friendships and interactions. There’s no participation in religious enterprises. There’s no real reading about political or philosophical matters. There’s a decline in spirituality. So, there’s a real collapse of sophisticated identity. And all of this, well, the sexualization of identity seems to me to be, in some sense, what would you say, a replacement for that or reaction to that. Does that seem on point to you or am I missing something there?

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Well, I think you’re correct in that some of those elements of individualism are much more short-term and not as deeply seated in terms of religion and meaning and more focused on some of the short-term. But I think lesbian and gay and bisexual identity is not really an example of that because that seems to be more deeply seated and constant for most people. That does seem to be a much more long-term identity. So, that, I think, is not as much on the part of individualism having to do with that self-focus. It’s more around accepting difference and accepting people for who they are and taking some of the more traditional social rules and saying, you know, these don’t really recognize people as individuals and for who they are. And that might be different. It might not be in the majority, but that that’s who they are as people.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Well, you talked in your book, in Generation Me, you talked about the self-esteem movement. And self-esteem has always been a particular bugbear of mine, I would say, especially since I discovered that psychometrically, it was basically composed of low neuroticism with a bit of extroversion thrown in. And so, self-esteem is a proxy for neuroticism in many, many ways. It isn’t obvious to me at all that you treat neuroticism by treating people to be more self-centered.

You know, one of the things I used to do with my clients who were socially anxious, when they’d go into a social situation, they’d start obsessing about how they were appearing to other people. They’d fall into that trap, and then they’d stop making eye contact, and then they would get awkward, and then they would engage in non sequiturs, and the whole conversation would grind to a halt.

And I asked them instead to concentrate as hard as they could on putting the other person at ease. And that gave them something to think about other than themselves. And so, the self-esteem movement was predicated on the idea that people high in neuroticism had low self-esteem, which I don’t think was true at all, and that the right remediation for that was to treat everyone as if they were uniquely special. So, it was like narcissism was the antidote to neuroticism. And that’s, it’s so appalling.

DR. JEAN TWENGE: It doesn’t work.

DISUNITY OF APPREHENSION: NEWS, POLITICS, FACTS

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: No, no, no. In fact, it makes it much worse. Yeah, okay, okay, okay. So, well, I’m relieved to hear that your sentiments are in keeping with that formulation. I mean, I’ve been trying to base it on the relevant data, trying to figure that out.

Chapter 10, independent politics. So, what about, well, you said that the iGen people, they’re not watching the news. The news is dead, right? I mean, legacy media news is dead. I don’t think anybody watches it. I think old people have the TV on, and that’s where the ratings come from. That’s just gone. That centralizing ability that the nightly news had to broadcast a similar message in some sense to everyone and bolster identity, that’s disappeared too. Everybody’s in their own news. I wouldn’t say bubble exactly, but it’s fragmented so much that there’s no unity of apprehension. What’s happening on the political front with the iGen types?

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Yeah, so there’s a couple of things going on. So, one is that a lot more young people now say they don’t want to belong to a political party at all, that they’re politically independent. And that’s been going on for a while. The other big piece is just huge political polarization, partially for the reasons that you mentioned, that everything is so atomized that you can get your news from a particular source, and perhaps because of the caustic nature of a lot of online interaction, it becomes contentious very, very quickly. So, we have a political atmosphere that’s just very, very aggressive and very, very polarized.

And I mean, it’s gotten to the point here in the U.S. where people don’t even agree on their own facts, that the two parties have different sets of facts. And young people reflect that larger cultural change. I think they may want to change it, but they also show more who say they’re very liberal or very conservative or very much on the left or very much on the right and fewer in the middle.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Yeah, well, that atomization of political identity, it’s another interesting twist on the notion of individualism, because you might say that not abiding, not joining a political party, not joining a political group, not joining a religion, not cementing a local social network, let’s say, frees you up because you’re not constrained by the necessity of abiding by the principles of those groups. But the problem with that is, is that the more, and this is something that people don’t really understand well about choice, is there’s not a lot of difference between excess choice and anxiety. They’re very much the same thing, right? If you have too many pathways open in front of you, and I can’t help but think that this is contributing to the epidemic of depression and anxiety. I mean, if you have a three-year-old who wants to dress himself and you open up a closet full of clothes, he or she is just generally stumped into immobility. If you lay out three outfits on the bed and say, pick one, then they’re perfectly happy because they’ve had the right amount of constrained choice.

And we’ve been teaching young people that all social norms are nothing but constraints on this individualistic freedom, and that completely underplays the role that identity plays in encapsulating anxiety. I was talking to Karl Friston the other day, a neuroscientist, and he’s convinced, as are many people, that our conceptions are entropy management techniques in some real sense. So, you know, once you define yourself, for example, within the confines of a given identity, now you’re playing a bounded game that might open up an interesting amount of options, but not so much that you drown. And to lose all those intermediary social structures, except maybe the bond you have with your parents, that strikes me as a mental health catastrophe.

So we should conclude this maybe by talking about your last chapter, WHAT’S TO BE DONE?

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Yeah, well, you know, I think we absolutely have to get a better handle on technology, particularly social media. We need more regulation. We need more balance. Technology is not all bad by any means. I mean, it’s amazing how many things that we can do with what we have, but it has to be a tool we use, not a tool that uses us. And the latter is exactly where we are. It’s amazing how many people talk about social media using the language of addiction.

And it is very clear what impact these technologies have had on young people in particular, and the mental health crisis that we’re confronting. So we really have to get a handle on this. And one thing that I am encouraged by is how many young people are recognizing this and taking those steps themselves. A college student named Emma Lembke, who founded a movement called Log Off. And she says it was from her having such an incredibly terrible experience with Instagram when she was a high school student. And so she’s encouraging other young people to cut back, if not eliminate their social media use and experience the rest of life and leave a lot of that toxicity behind.

And I’m encouraged to see more of that and more bipartisan support for regulating social media. And so maybe we’ll get there.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Well, and so what do you have for suggestions that are practical on the regulation front? We talked a little bit about, well, clamping down on the online trolls and the anonymous accounts. I mean, that just seems to me to be a no-brainer. At least they could be put in their own category, right? You’re either a real person or you’re a fictional anonymous or a bot, in which case, you know, you’re consigned to perdition. People can read your comments if they want. But concretely, what do you first of all, what do you think the social media platforms could do and should do? And even if they did it, do you think that the social media landscape will just transform itself so rapidly that it’ll elude any sort of regulation? Because I mean, a lot of these social media platforms are only a couple of years old. They spring into being. They’re massively powerful. I don’t imagine they have a tremendous amount of longevity. And so we’re playing regulatory catch up all the time.

DR. JEAN TWENGE: Yeah, absolutely. Well, you know, I think a lot of it starts with age verification. If we can verify people’s age, we would cut down on a lot of the sexual predation. We would get rid of children 12 and under being on the platforms. The platforms could have more regulation and be safer for, say, 13 to 17 year olds in terms of hiding the likes and comments on other people’s posts. Facebook actually tried that at one point. They called it Project Daisy and they decided not to implement it because it cut down on revenue, even though they showed it cut down on social comparison, particularly for teens. So there’s a really — there’s a long list of of regulations that could be put in place that would have only a small impact on the social media companies that that decrease in revenue with Project Daisy was one percent.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Oh, well, it’s good of them not to have implemented it then because, you know, one percent is pretty catastrophic.

DR. JEAN TWENGE: So there’s so many things that they could do to keep kids and teens safer, but it depends on not being anonymous, not being able to open multiple accounts and verifying age.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Right. Right. And who do you know — apart from you, who do you know that’s working on such ideas? I know that Jonathan Haidt has made many suggestions on the on the Internet pathology front. It doesn’t appear to me that the big social media companies are really paying attention to the psychological research in any real sense. I mean, maybe that’s unfair, but I don’t think so. The comment sections could have been cleaned up long ago by anybody with any sense as far as I can tell.

DR. JEAN TWENGE: I think they know. I think they know it. They know the research. It’s just they have their own reasons for not acting on it, some of which are financial.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Right. And so who else, apart from you and Jonathan Haidt, are worth talking to about the Internet predicament that young people have found themselves in?

DR. JEAN TWENGE: There’s a lot of great research on this topic. There’s Australian researchers done a lot of stuff on Instagram and body image. I may get her first name right, Marika Tiggemann. She’s done a lot of great stuff on that. Brian Primack, who’s an MD by training and works in public health, has done a lot of great stuff, too, on looking at social media use and how it relates to depression and loneliness. And he’s looked at young adults in particular.

DR JORDAN B PETERSON: Well, maybe I can get in contact with you to get some of these names, because I’d like to put together a little group of people who are concentrating on social media regulation and maybe introduce them to the political types that I have access to, because it’s a pressing issue and it’s not being dealt with well and it’s driving polarization in a terrible way.

And so, all right, well, we should wrap up this part of our conversation. We spoke today almost primarily about your new book, iGen, an analysis of the first generation, the behavior of the first generation who’ve been exposed, I would say, over the entire course of their life to these radically new technologies that we so thoughtfully refer to as phones, when they’re much more God only knows what they are, but they’re certainly not phones. And I appreciate you very much sharing your insight with us today. And I’d like to thank everybody who’s watching and listening on YouTube and to remind you that I do an extra half an hour with my guests on the Daily Wire Plus platform, where I walk through their lives in a more biographical sense, trying to assess, well, the ups and downs of their career, but also to try to focus in on what’s made them particularly, let’s say, successful and impactful and what prices they paid for that and what benefits have accrued.

For Further Reading:

The Essence of Terrible Parenting: Stephanie Davies-Arai (Transcript)

Dr. Cal Newport: Quit Social Media at TEDxTysons (Full Transcript)

How The Media Affects Youth: Oda Faremo Lindholm (Transcript)

At a Crossroads: Jordan B. Peterson 2022 Commencement Address (Transcript)

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