“Study finds college students less empathetic,” Dr. Helen writes:
Today’s college students are not as empathetic as college students of the 1980s and ’90s, a University of Michigan study shows.
The study, presented in Boston at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, analyzes data on empathy among almost 14,000 college students over the last 30 years.
“We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000,” said Sara Konrath, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research. “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.”
Some experts in the article felt the drop in empathy was because of exposure to media causing desensitization to other’s pain or because of a hyper-competitive atmosphere where everyone has to worry about themselves in order to compete.
Perhaps this is part of the equation but, in my opinion, the huge emphasis in the schools and culture on “high self-esteem” (from the 1970’s on) regardless of accomplishments probably plays a part in the increase in narcissism, and increased lack of empathy. In addition, the cheap emphasis on being a do-gooder through government means as a tool for feeling good about oneself, rather than helping others due to the intrinsic reward and what it means to the other person has probably not helped.
It’s kind of ironic that as the liberal government emphasizes their “wonderful” socialist programs to the masses (heath care, global warming, peace studies, etc.), the masses are becoming less able to feel for their fellow human beings. As more people see the government as being responsible for taking care of others, their tendency to help others will lessen, not increase.
When Nietzsche invented his “Ubermensch” concept almost 130 years ago, it was latched onto a few decades later by such otherwise disparate early adopters such as H.L. Mencken and a young Ayn Rand still working out her own philosophy ideas as a bold new concept. (Nietzsche’s homeland eventually really got into it as well, particularly in the 1930s and early ’40s…) But I’m not sure if ol’ Friedrich ever believed that a century later, everyone would be taught to think of themselves in similar terms as a byproduct of compulsory education. We shouldn’t too surprised if less — a lot less — empathy for others is a concurrent byproduct.
Update: Somewhat related thoughts from Ronald Bailey at Reason.