News Stories

Students Fail Empathy Test

Blame it on Facebook & video games - According to a new study, today's college students seem less caring than earlier generations, perhaps they're too worried about competing with their fellow students to earn a living after graduation. Thank goodness you can always get Mother Love--even if Mom lives far away!

This is especially important for new graduates going out into the job world, since it's been discovered that touching helps make decisions. If you have a hard deal to make, be sure you are sitting on a hard chair. In a mock bargaining scenario, people who sat on soft chairs were more flexible in agreeing on a price. In BBC News, Emma Wilkinson quotes researcher Cary Cooper as saying, "I can see that if people are sitting on a very comfy, relaxed couch being interviewed for a job they may not be as assertive and they may let their guard down."Close relationship researchers have previously found that Easterners (those from collectivistic cultures such as China) seem to regard love differently from Westerners (those from individualist cultures such as the United States). Researchers don't know if these cultural differences are due to actual differences in the experience of love or are they just how people talk about their experiences ( such as cultural differences in modesty and reserve, which would affect how they fill out a questionnaire). OTHER questionnaires reveal that college students (in the West, anyway) seem to be less empathetic as college students of the 1980s and '90s.

Psychiatrist Sara Konrath says, "We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000. College kids today are about 40% lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago, as measured by standard tests of this personality trait."

Compared to college students of the late 1970s 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." And it's not just students: In a related but separate analysis, Konrath found that nationally representative samples of Americans see changes in other people's kindness and helpfulness over a similar time period.

Her co-researcher Edward O'Brien says, "Many people see the current group of college students---sometimes called 'Generation Me'---as one of the most self-centered, narcissistic, competitive, confident and individualistic in recent history. It's not surprising that this growing emphasis on the self is accompanied by a corresponding devaluation of others."

Why is empathy declining among young adults? "The increase in exposure to media during this time period could be one factor," Konrath says. "Compared to 30 years ago, the average American now is exposed to 3 times as much nonwork-related information. In terms of media content, this generation of college students grew up with video games, and a growing body of research is establishing that exposure to violent media numbs people to the pain of others."

O'Brien thinks that the recent rise of social media may also play a role in the drop in empathy,. He says, "The ease of having 'friends' online might make people more likely to just tune out when they don't feel like responding to others' problems, a behavior that could carry over offline."

Add in the hypercompetitive atmosphere and inflated expectations of success, borne of celebrity "reality shows," and you have a social environment that works against slowing down and listening to someone who needs a bit of sympathy, he says. "College students today may be so busy worrying about themselves and their own issues that they don't have time to spend empathizing with others, or at least perceive such time to be limited."

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