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College kids lack empathy-study

In a measure test of empathy, the investigators found that the score of the new generation dropped by nearly 40 percent over the past three decades.

The single word mantra for the young generation today seems to be narcissism. According to psychologists, the youth today is so intrinsically self absorbed, rude, exhibiting selfish qualities that it comes as no surprise that they are fast losing the ability to empathize with other people.

Researchers delving into the personality of college students found that youngsters are definitely less empathetic than what they used to be.

They have become polarized and deeply cynical. Young Americans are unable to elicit feelings of concern for others with the same ease that their parents did nearly a couple of decades ago.

According to experts, the current crop of students are least likely to agree with statements such as “I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me,” or, “I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective.”

These sentiments are widely acknowledged as markers of empathy but are sadly found lacking in youngsters today.

"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," says Edward O'Brien, a graduate student who worked on the study.

Researchers delving into the personality of college students found that youngsters are definitely less empathetic than what they used to be. They have become polarized and deeply cynical. Young Americans are unable to elicit feelings of concern for others with the same ease that their parents did nearly a couple of decades ago.

Analysis of data
In a bid to understand this lack of empathy in students, the researchers conducted a study between 1979 and 2009 that involved about 14,000 college students in the US.

It was primarily a meta-analysis of data from about 72 research papers on the issue. In a measure test of empathy, the investigators found that the score of the new generation dropped by nearly 40 percent over the past three decades.

Lead author of the study Sara Konrath, a researcher at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, stated: "We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000. 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."

Some plausible reasons
The trend is disturbing and there are multiple theories on why college kids today lack this social skill. Researchers consider social networking as a factor.

There is an increase in the use of the internet and youngsters prefer virtual friends rather than real. There is no doubt that non-face-to-face relationships have less empathy.

In addition, media plays an important role. Exposure to violence via video games, social media and reality TV makes the students insensitive to the pain of others.

"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.

"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,” O'Brien concludes.

The results of the study were presented at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science in Boston.