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Empathy. Got Some?

Empathy. Got Some?

"Kids these days! What has gotten into them?!" If you've ever uttered this phrase, here is some food for thought. A new study finds that college students of today are much less empathetic than those from older generations.

Researchers from the University of Michigan analyzed data from 72 studies done between 1979 and 2009. They discovered that students' feelings of sympathy and understanding of others' misfortunes dramatically declined over the years. Compared to students from the 1980s, today's college students scored lower on questions that demonstrate their ability to imagine others' perspectives on an issue.

The assessment asked students to rate how likely they 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." Researchers say there has been a 40% decline in empathetic concern over the years. "We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000," said Sara Konrath, researcher from the U-M Institute for Social Research.

Researchers suggest this could be due in part to over-exposure to media that contains negative, violent images, which might lead to apathy about pain others are experiencing. The rise of the Internet and social media has created what some call "Generation Me," a self-centered group of young people that Konrath and her colleagues believe might not have time nor the inclination to stop their busy lives to empathize with a friend. They hope to explore these ideas in future research.

What do you think contributes to this? What can educators do about it?

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About the Author
Michelle Gielan

Michelle Gielan is a journalist and wellness expert, receiving a Master of Applied Positive Psychology from UPenn. She is a former national CBS News anchor.

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