Americans have long sensed a decline in the kindness and helpfulness of their peers. The results of a recent study suggest college students are among the worst offenders in this regard.
The study was authored by Sara Konrath and presented at last month’s meeting of the Association for Psychological Science. Konrath’s work is titled, “Changes in Dispositional Empathy in American College Students Over Time: A Meta-Analysis.” It showed that today’s college students are 40% less empathetic than their predecessors from 30 years ago. Most of the decline appeared after 2000.
Konrath’s survey divided empathy into 4 dimensions: Empathic concern, or sympathy for the misfortunes of others; perspective concern, or the capacity to imagine other people’s points of view; the tendency to identify with fictitious characters in movies or books; and anguish felt when observing others’ misfortunes.
Modern college students scored 48% lower in empathic concern and 34% lower in perspective taking than their predecessors. In particular, they were found to be 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.”
These results are notable since people are known to state agreement with shared social ideals like these more frequently than they actually do.
Previous studies have linked low empathy to violence, criminal behavior, aggression when drunk, sexual offenses and other antisocial behaviors.
What caused the change? “We don’t actually know…at this point,” Konrath told the New York Times. But she speculated that a combination of social media, reality TV, video games and intense competition have caused young people to become more shallow, self-involved, individualistic and overly ambitious.