Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Jean Twenge, a San Diego State University faculty member who received her Ph.D. in personality psychology at the University of Michigan in 1998, recently came out with a book entitled, Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled -- and More Miserable Than Ever Before (2006, Free Press).

Jean has developed a very successful line of research where, for whatever personality trait she happens to be studying at a given time (e.g., assertiveness or anxiety), she tracks down all available studies where the same questionnaire measure of the trait has been administered to college students, in articles published over the past three or four decades. With the measurement instrument and population (college students) held constant over time, she can thus uncover generational change in the traits she studies. The book reports the results of these investigations, non-technically for a general audience.

To glean all the needed research articles and reports, Jean has had to spend great amounts of time in libraries, which she writes about in a blended humorous-acerbic style. Much of her searching was, of course, done in the UM's Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library, which she describes as:

...a building so vast and confusing that red and yellow lines are painted on the stone floor to help people find the exits. The university had added on to the library in 1970, smushing two buildings of different styles and floor heights together with limited access between the two. The older building ended up with floors like "4A" ... connected by narrow, apparently randomly placed staircases.... (p. 13).

To the right is a picture I took of the graduate library during one of my visits to Ann Arbor in recent years.

Jean also writes, in places, with a feisty, earthy style, referring to one particular media report about marriage trends as "unmitigated crap" (p. 200).

Her research on today's young people meshes well with one of my own areas of research, the study of "Emerging Adulthood," a life stage in between adolescence and full-fledged adulthood. Beyond our somewhat overlapping research interests and receipt of Ph.D.'s from the University of Michigan (me almost a decade earlier), Jean and my career trajectories, in fact, have a number of parallels. While it's not exactly the Lincoln-Kennedy Coincidence, consider the following:

Jean grew up in Texas and is a faculty member at a university in California. I grew up in California and am a faculty member at a university in Texas.

Also, we each did post-docs in rustbelt industrial cities off of Lake Erie, Jean in Cleveland, and me in Buffalo.

And both of our first names have four letters, and end in "an"!