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Are college students today less empathetic?

A University of Michigan finds current collegians are not as empathetic as prior generations

Providing proof to your parents that kids these days are just no good, a recently released study from the University of Michigan shows that college students are reportedly less empathetic than those in prior generations.

Along with UM graduate Edward O’Brien, and current undergraduate Courtney Hsing, the UM Institute for Social Research’s Sara Konrath headed the analysis, which collected data from 14,000 college students from 72 different countries taken from the past thirty years.

Konrath explained the findings: “We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000. College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago, as measured by standard tests of this personality trait.”

Students analyzed after the year 2000 were less likely to agree with the statements “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.”

O’Brien and Konrath are hoping to next delve into the reasons why students are less empathetic, but did offer their ideas as to what’s responsible for the drop. Konrath believes the saturation of media content is a likely factor.

“Compared to 30 years ago, the average American now is exposed to three 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, including work done by my colleagues at Michigan, is establishing that exposure to violent media numbs people to the pain of others.”

Our Take:

I always knew you college kids were mean. Aside from my scarred psyche, this study is further proof of that!

Truthfully, while some of us may not want to admit it, this study does make sense to me. Think of all the “friends” we keep in touch with or follow now, especially those on social networks. I’m sure there are more than a few that you just simply don’t understand or agree with in the slightest.

Thirty years ago, college classes were much smaller and maintaining connections with merely twenty friends was probably difficult. Also, the rest of the world wasn’t constantly under surveillance thanks to the internet, so individuals may not have been as aware of the opinions or views that would stir their emotions negatively. Or maybe I’m just over-analyzing.

This study could just a microcosm of American — and perhaps global — society. Or perhaps college students are just jerkfaces. Yeah, I’m talking about you. Jerk.

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