Alright, let’s start today off with a bit of an experiment. Answer these statements with one of the following: strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, or strongly agree.
- I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me.
- I try to look at everybody’s side of a disagreement before I make a decision.
- Sometimes I don’t feel very sorry for other people when they are having problems.
- When I see someone being taken advantage of, I feel kind of protective towards them.
- Other people’s misfortunes do not disturb me a great deal.
- I am often quite touched by things that I see happen.
- I sometimes find it difficult to see things from the “other guy’s” point of view.
Disagree? Turns out college students today do. In the important indices of empathy such as empathetic concern and perspective taking, students score 48% and 34% lower than students 30 years ago. Meaning that they are 40% less empathetic—with numbers plummeting after 2000.
True, it is difficult to settle on a definition for empathy. Dr. Sara Konrath from the University of Michigan tried testing for aspects of “interpersonal sensitivity”: empthatic concern (sympathy) over the misfortune of others, perspective taking, tendency to identify imaginatively in an fictional world, and personal distress garnering those striking results.
Studies in the past have shown increasing narcissism among college students since the 1980s as well as Americans in general.
These results are sadly not surprising to researchers.
“I’m not surprised,” Dr. Bruce Perry, a child psychiatrist and an author of a new book “Born to Love: Why Empathy Is Essential — and Endangered” told the New York Times. “But I was hoping it wasn’t as rapid a deterioration as this study suggests.”
This leaves me with the same question as last week. What is the cause?
Kornath seems to have at least a suggestion.
“We don’t actually know what the causes are at this point,” Dr. Konrath said. “But the authors speculate a millennial mixture of video games, social media, reality TV and hyper-competition have left young people self-involved, shallow and unfettered in their individualism and ambition.”