A new study from the University of Michigan (if you can trust such a source) shows that college-age students show less empathy today than in previous years. USA Today reports:
Sara Konrath, a researcher at the university’s Institute for Social Research, looked at 72 studies that gauged empathy among 14,000 college students in the past 30 years. She found that empathy has been declining — especially since 2000. The research finds that college students today show 40% less empathy vs. students in the 1980s and 1990s. The students are less likely to agree with statements such as “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.”
The study did not evaluate why students are less empathetic, but Konrath says one reason may be that people are having fewer face-to-face interactions, communicating instead through social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
This is an interesting study, especially when we begin to consider the possible causes. Is it Facebook and Twitter? Is it the erosion of the family over the years? Is it something else? Read the report in USA Today and let me know what you think.
By the way, if you are older and think that this does not impact you in any way, consider these words from the article:
If people are less empathic, she says, it has implications for America’s aging population, because older people will increasingly rely on younger generations for support and care.
“Empathy is a very important moral trait in terms of everyday caring for people in our environment,” she says.
Could you please take a look at my recent blog posts (over a weeks worth toknow the whole story)? My family is suffering at the hands of a Mennonite Pastor and I would like to hear from Christian bloggers, what they think of it.
I do find this interesting if not really surprising. Perhaps this is part of the fulfillment of 2 Timothy 3 where men will become lovers of self and also unloving towards others. We have been taught to have a very existential worldview, and sooner or later that will push everybody else out of the picture because of the “almighty self”.
I don’t think that facebook and twitter are the culprits, although they may be contributors. I believe that the main reason for the decline in empathy is that it is inconvenient for us to “feel bad” about anyone else, and it will ultimately take away from our own agenda of what our life should be like.
Can you tell me where to start reading on your blog site? I looked there, but you have written a lot! If I knew where to start, I may be able to comment.
Interesting. Since I go to a Christian college, I assume that I don’t have the most accurate picture of what college students are saying in general, but it seems odd to me that this study says that college students “care less.” I would think that as a demographic, they tend to show more concern for social justice than many other segments of the population. For one thing, the sample size is pretty small considering the study spans 30 years, but sampling techniques aside, I wonder if it could be a matter of phrasing; maybe 30 years ago “empathy” was a more common term for what might be referred today as “justice”, “social responsibility”, or “concern.” My guess is that if these current catch phrases had been used, the results may have been indicated a more empathetic college population.
Kelsey: Good to hear from you. I think you make some very good points. In regards to the terminology used, the report says that “students are less likely to agree with statements such as “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.”
It does not seem that the word “empathy” was actually used in the questions asked, so I am not sure that the choice of vocabulary is a primary issue with the results. I could be convinced otherwise though if I had more detailed info on what the study used for questions 30 years ago vs. today.