University of Southern California

Beware "The Mirror Effect" Entertainment Management Expert's New Book
Book Explores Celebrity Narcissism and its Effects on Youth and Popular Culture
March 12, 2009 • by News at Marshall

For S. Mark Young, of the USC Marshall School of Business, the outlandish behavior of celebrities like 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 into his research.

Young, who co-authored the new book The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America (Harper) with Dr. 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 decision makers 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 says, understanding celebrity narcissism and its effect on popular culture may also help break a cultural cycle that rewards narcissistic tendencies that has caused a radical shift in our culture.

"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 Annenberg School of Communication and at the Marshall, where he holds the George Bozanic and Homan G. Hurt Chair in Sports and Entertainment Business. He has taught in 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, adding 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 faculty as an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the USC Keck School of Medicine. The study, which 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 (NPI), 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 the nationally syndicated Westwood One radio show "Loveline," based at the KROQ-FM station in Los Angeles.

The NPI test divides 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. Further, they 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," he 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 also points 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 the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles on March 24; at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena on March 26; and at Borders Books & Music in Hollywood on March 30.

For a full list appearances visit The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America, By Dr. Drew Pinsky and Dr. S. Mark Young, On Sale: March 17, 2009

About the USC Marshall School of Business
Consistently ranked among the nation's premier schools, USC Marshall is internationally recognized for its emphasis on entrepreneurship and innovation, social responsibility and path-breaking research. Located in the heart of Los Angeles, one of the world's leading business centers and the U.S. gateway to the Pacific Rim, Marshall offers its 5,700-plus undergraduate and graduate students a unique world view and impressive global experiential opportunities. With an alumni community spanning 123 countries, USC Marshall students join a worldwide community of thought leaders who are redefining the way business works.