College students today are not nearly as nice as they were in the 1980s and 1990s, according to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. According to the press release about the study:

“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.”

Why? Well no one seems to know for sure, though Konrath indicated that a lack of empathy may have something to do with childhood video games (because “exposure to violent media numbs people to the pain of others”) and social networks (because it leads people “to just tune out when they don’t feel like responding to others’ problems”).

Interesting, though one wonders how this compares over a longer span of time. So college students are less emphatic than college students of the 1970s. But how do today’s college students compare to those of the 1880s (who routinely lost multiple siblings to smallpox), those of the 1860s (an entire generation felled by the Civil War) or those of the Middle Ages (Black Plague, childbirth, the Crusades)?

Researchers also blame a “hypercompetitive atmosphere and inflated expectations of success.”

Our ideas can save democracy... But we need your help! Donate Now!

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer