College Students Have Less Empathy, Study Says

College Students Have Less Empathy, Study Says

Today’s college students just don’t care. According to The New York Times, a paper presented in May at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science in Boston by Sara Konrath, a researcher at the University of Michigan, found that college students today are 40 percent less empathetic than those of 30 years ago, with the numbers plunging primarily after 2000.

Previous studies have differed on what empathy actually is. According to dictionary.com, empathy is “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing ofthe feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” For the purposes of this study, Dr. Konrath measured four aspects of “interpersonal sensitivity”: Empathic concern, or sympathy, over the misfortunes of others; perspective taking, an intellectual capacity to imagine other people’s points of view; fantasy or people’s tendency to identify imaginatively with fictional characters in books or movies; and personal distress, which refers to the anguish one feels during others’ misfortunes.

Today’s students scored significantly lower in empathic concern (a 48 percent decrease) and perspective taking (34 percent). They are also less likely to agree with statements like “I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me” and “I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective.”

Why are today’s young people like this? “We don’t actually know what the causes are at this point,” Dr. Konrath said. But the authors speculate that a mix of video games, social media, reality TV and hyper-competition have left young people self-involved, shallow, and focused on their individual ambitions.

While that may be true, young people often use these same technologies to help people, whether it’s texting relief to Haiti, microlending on kiva.org or following celebrities who champion all sorts of charitable causes. Look at Angelina Jolie – what celebrity in the 1950s helped people the way she does?

Might parents also to be to blame? Perhaps college students’ selfishness has been brought on by busy parents who spoiled their kids out of guilt.

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