Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Empathy lagging for younger folks

Dean Smith, our leader at Urban Connection--Austin, sent me the following article describing how recent research discovered that young people lag behind previous generations in terms of empathy for their fellows who experience difficulty. 

In my opinion, the most disturbing finding of the research was the fact that the young generation today is more individualistic than any in the recent past.  Not a good sign for the development of meaningful community action among this population.

I'd love your reactions after you've read the report.

Generation me students have less empathy than 20 years ago

The modern-day "Generation me" students are more selfish and less empathetic than two decades ago, claims new research.
By Richard Alleyne, Science Correspondent
Published: 6:00PM BST 28 May 2010

Students used to be about all about holding sit-ins and rallies in order to fight for the rights of others.

But now they are too engrossed in their own lives to care, claims new research.

According to psychologists, undergraduates are fast losing the ability to empathise with other people.
Researchers reviewing surveys of empathy found that they have lost almost 40 per cent of the ability since the 1980s.

The study, presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, analysed a number of surveys involving 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 University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

"College kids today are about 40 per cent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago, as measured by standard tests of this personality trait."

Ms Konrath analysed the findings of 72 different studies of American college students conducted between 1979 and 2009, with fellow 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."

Ms Konrath said that many people refer to the effect as the "Generation Me" which is one of the most self-centered, narcissistic, competitive, confident and individualistic in recent history.

To read the entire report click here.


Dean Smith said...

It was interesting to note that the researchers noticed the biggest drop in empathy in the year 2000, a year before 9/11. Apparently, the world was changing before the Towers fell.

Lorlee said...

Not sure it is just the younger generation -- I despair when I read comments online.

To paraphrase Jack on Lost "We have to live together or we are going to die alone"

Anonymous said...

Lorlee - don't forget that the sky is falling!

Daniel said...

I, with Lorlee, question whether this is a general societal trend, and not something explicit to the college-age kids.

Our society as a whole has become more content to sit around and do everything from our armchair (or computer screen) rather than take real action. We'd rather click to support causes on social media and twitter about injustice, but we are unlikely to do anything real about it. Yes, the youth are more technologically savvy, but I see declining empathy in the older generations as well.

Technology has often supplanted, rather than augmented, empathy.

Lorlee said...

I don't know how you extrapolated to your comment about the sky falling, I was simply noting a trend in the comments on line that show little or no empathy.

And golly, your comment fit right in.

Alan Bean said...

It would be interesting to give a retest to some of the folks who took the test in the 80s to see if they have maintained their high levels of empathy. Both political parties cater to self-interest but the Tea Party folk display practically no empathy whatsoever and they are generally over 50. Even liberals rarely make the kind of appeals to conscience we heard from Dr. King back in the day.

Chris said...

You socialists need to consider that socialism has never worked and it is failing in Europe and Canada as I write.

Lorlee said...

Empathy = Socialism? One wonders where that came from?

The bible talks of "What you do to the least of my brethren". I often wonder which bible most of the bible thumpers are reading.

Also, Canada and Europe are hardly failed states. In many measures they outrank the US, wellbeing of citizens, health, financially, etc.

Anonymous said...

It was reported this week that the health care in Canada is broke. Ditto Greece and other European countries.

Europe is failing faster than the US and that is really saying something.

Anonymous said...

"Tea Party folk display practically no empathy whatsoever and they are generally over 50."


I care so much for you that I want you to be able to support your own needs, with dignity. I pay for education and training programs, facilities, support systems, medical care, & counselors to help you develop your mind, maintain your health, and set goals that can lead to your comfort and happiness.

I care so much for you, that I will hold you accountable for your own failings. Then, after you accept responsibility for your part of the problem - recognizing the other contributing factors - that I will turn to help you and make sacrifices to ensure your transition is complete.

I care so much about you that I will not let you lie to yourself to enable you to continue in your poverty. And then I will admit to you that I fall into similar false beliefs about myself and that I need you to keep me straight about myself, too.

I care so much about you that I give time, energy, and money to meet broader societal needs you cannot address - matching resources to problems to create environments you depend on but do not acknowledge.

I care so much about you that I think about the implications of my vote, meet with engaged people to discuss appropriate strategies, and fund candidates that will change our system to one that makes all the above efforts more fruitful, to one that helps reduce my frustration with inefficiency and graft, and encourages a more joyful attitude about giving.

My friends and I make up the Tea Party. It is our way to participate - and even though many try to delegitmize and marginalize our efforts, we are doing the same thing that other groups have done in the past to make a difference.

The last thing you want is for me and my friends to give up on the process.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if it is fair to assess or study someone's empathy in their college years. This is a time when your world is all about you and school and your future. You are gathering information and knowledge almost at exponential rates from all the new stimuli and new experiences. Granted I don't want to make excuses as I do feel that there is a sense of that this generation feels that things are owed to them. Let me not digress, but I think that to assess empathy in this way is not very accurate. Also I think it's fair to say we are all empathetic to what we can relate to. Their experiences are so distant because often times their parents have pushed them to do so many things that they couldn't fully commit or attach to one. Just my opinion.

Whether it's a fair or accurate assessment my question is what do we do about it? How do we insure that the next generations do not follow in these footsteps?

Mandy Schalk Cooper said...

As a 20-something who feels very involved in empathetic endeavors, I have to agree that from my perspective I view it more as a social trend. I know many people my age who care deeply about social justice and work for better communities and a better world. And on the flip side, I probably know more that don't. However I could probably say I know way fewer of my parents generation who are so commited to others. Especially during these economic times I think people are most selfish. When sadly it should be a time of the most outreach.