Saturday, September 30, 2023

Lack of empathy might be due to lack of curiosity

An article published by USA Today reported a recent study from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, concluded college students today are less empathetic than past college students. The study — which looked at 72 empathy studies, including 14,000 students over a 30-year span — indicated a 40 percent reduction in empathy from students in the 1980s and 1990s.

It doesn’t evaluate why there has been a reduction in empathy, but project researcher Sara Konrath said one reason could be to reduced face to face interaction because of social networking sites.
First, we wonder if some of the lack of empathy might have to do with the wording of the questions. For example, one might respond to the question “I often have tender, concerned feelings for people who are less fortunate than me” negatively. The response might stem solely from the question sounding creepy as opposed to the actual amount of empathy involved.

Also, when considering how the economy has changed and the declining value of Bachelor’s degrees, it is possible a competitive environment has put empathy on the back burner.
As things become more competitive, students might feel a need to ignore their feelings and the views of others in order to get ahead.

At first glance, hiring practices don’t seem to favor the person who feels “tender” and “concerned” about his or her colleagues. We are supposed to be the best, bar none. Being “the best” doesn’t necessarily conjure images of concern for others. We will say, however, that
understanding the feelings and actions of other people goes a long way in any endeavor.

However, it rings true to us that a lack of face to face interaction — exacerbated by social networking — is hurting our ability to empathize. As much as Facebook, Twitter and Myspace bring people together, they also encourage us to communicate in ways that require less empathy. U-M graduate student Edward O’Brian, who helped with the project’s data collection, said by spending the night “posting on Facebook walls and sending out tweets,” students were missing out on “valuable interpersonal experiences.”

We agree in some sense. O’Brian makes it sound like students eschew contact with each other to sit at home and interact with friends via the Internet. In our experience, the prevalence of smart phones has allowed for tweeting and posting while out with friends. The whole point of Twitter, it could be argued, is to make it easier to post when out with friends. We recognize that even text messaging and posting while out with others is detrimental to interpersonal interaction no matter how quick it is. However, we also would like to pose an alternative way of looking at social networking.

Facebook, Twitter and the like put the poster out there for the world to see. It takes only a cursory glance at a blog or website to see someone’s interests, his or her favorite movies and/or relationship status. Sites like eHarmony revolve around the idea of putting out information and letting people come to the poster. Perhaps our lack of empathy is based less on our narcissism and more on the fact that we have a great deal of information already available to us. We don’t have to ask probing questions or feel each other out, we already know. There is no point in fishing around or paying attention to how someone feels if they’ve already done it in 140 characters or less.

All in all, we think this study should be taken with a grain of salt. The USA Today article said Claire Raines, an expert on generations, noted the Millennial generation “volunteers more than twice as often as Generation X, or people born roughly between 1960 and 1980. She also said we have better relationships with our parents, which, when we think about it, makes sense because a lot of us will end up having to move back in with them.

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