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College Students Lack Empathy

The Millennial Generation, a term generally applied to people born between 1980 and 2000, are plugged in to world like no other generation before.  Having grown up with the Internet, they take for granted the ability to instantly connect with anyone anywhere in the world.  They are a well-informed and socially conscious group.

But somewhere along the way to this state of hyper-connectivity, something seems to have been lost:  The ability to feel compassion for others.

Researchers from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research say that based on their analysis of 72 studies of college students over the past 30 years, today’s crop is 40% less empathic than those in the 1980′s and 1990′s.

And it’s all the Internet’s fault, of course.

They report that this decline in empathy has been especially marked since 2000, which coincides with the explosion of technology allowing people to communicate without ever seeing each other’s faces.  And this lack of face time, they say, ultimately inhibits one’s ability to recognize pain and suffering in others.

“Empathy is best activated when you can see another person’s signal for help,” says researcher Sara Konrath.

Dogging the Millennials is nothing new.  They have already been labeled narcissistic and materialistic by researchers in the past.  And they might very well be less empathetic and more self-centered than their predecessors.  But if the Internet is truly turning out a generation of self-centered, me-first adults, what the heck is going to happen to the next generation?  The kids who were practically born on Twitter and Facebook?

The Internet may make it easier for us to build walls around ourselves, but in some ways it may also make it more necessary to do so.  As Claire Raines, author of “The Art of Connecting” points out, empathy is likely a casualty of information overload and one that impacts all of us, not just young people.   “If we just open our hearts to all the misfortune around us, it would be just overwhelming,” she says.

Image: me and the sysop/Flickr

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