Empathy: College students don't have as much as they used to

May 27, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Today's college students are not as empathetic as college students of the 1980s and '90s, a University of Michigan study shows.

The study, presented in Boston at the annual meeting of the Association for , analyzes data on among almost 14,000 college students over the last 30 years.

"We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000," said Sara Konrath, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research. "College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago, as measured by standard tests of this ."

Konrath conducted the meta-analysis, combining the results of 72 different studies of American college students conducted between 1979 and 2009, with U-M graduate student Edward O'Brien and undergraduate student Courtney Hsing.

Compared to college students of the late 1970s, the study found, college students today are less likely to agree with statements such as "I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective" and "I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me."

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Podcast: Research shows that today's college students are less empathic than students were before 2000.

In a related but separate analysis, Konrath found that nationally representative samples of Americans see changes in other people's kindness and helpfulness over a similar time period.

"Many people see the current group of college students—sometimes called 'Generation Me'—as one of the most self-centered, narcissistic, competitive, confident and individualistic in recent history," said Konrath, who is also affiliated with the University of Rochester Department of Psychiatry.

"It's not surprising that this growing emphasis on the self is accompanied by a corresponding devaluation of others," O'Brien said.

Why is empathy declining among young adults?

Konrath and O'Brien suggest there could be several reasons, which they hope to explore in future research.

"The increase in exposure to media during this time period could be one factor," Konrath said. "Compared to 30 years ago, the average American now is exposed to three times as much nonwork-related information. In terms of media content, this generation of college students grew up with video games, and a growing body of research, including work done by my colleagues at Michigan, is establishing that exposure to violent media numbs people to the pain of others."

The recent rise of social media may also play a role in the drop in empathy, suggests O'Brien.

"The ease of having 'friends' online might make people more likely to just tune out when they don't feel like responding to others' problems, a behavior that could carry over offline," he said.

Add in the hypercompetitive atmosphere and inflated expectations of success, borne of celebrity "reality shows," and you have a social environment that works against slowing down and listening to someone who needs a bit of sympathy, he says.

" today may be so busy worrying about themselves and their own issues that they don't have time to spend empathizing with others, or at least perceive such time to be limited," O'Brien said.

Explore further: One in five US adults dealt with a mental illness in 2013

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freethinking
1 / 5 (1) May 28, 2010
Though I am always skeptical of psychological studies, how about the following other reasons.

Kids are less religious now.

More Progressives teaching kids that government is the answer and it is the government that needs to help others.

Self esteem being being more important than self controll taught at school.

Fewer traditional families.

But would social scientist ever blame the worlds problem on progressive thoughts and beliefs even if all the evidence shows this? I don't thinks so.
feliponz
not rated yet May 29, 2010
I would like to know how many of these kids had siblings, or if growing up they were constantly told they were special.
Did anyone interview the parents of these young adults? Were they selfish and self-centered as well?

I ask because I've been living in OC in California for the past 2 years and I'm appalled at how some of the children around these areas behave. They not only fit the "un-empathic" label, they surpass it. It all comes together when you meet their parents, though. It's disgusting, a bunch of ego-centric, shallow-minded people who all drive the same kind of luxury car.

I think circumstances like those would have a bigger effect than violent videogames (The news, BTW is way more scary than anything a videogame can come out with).

Just my opinion.

O_M_G
not rated yet Jun 10, 2010
It's probably just society f***ing with young people?

About 10 years ago I started an apprenticeship, on my first day I was told: Don't get too friendly, IF somebody gets a job after 3 years, there won't be more than one.

Now in university, we have to do more exams, with stricter rules (you get expelled if, if, if, if, if....) just to earn less then our precursors (remember: not enough jobs).

Just a minute ago, I read that up to 20% of college students are in someway harming/injuring themselve.

And all this due to "no" religion, or beeing an only child? That is - in all honesty - ridiculous.

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