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Education Science

Students Show a Dramatic Drop In Empathy 659

Posted by kdawson
from the well-boo-hoo dept.
MotorMachineMercenar writes "Several news sources report that today's college students show a precipitous drop in empathy (here's MSNBC's take). The study of 14,000 students shows that students since the year 2000 had 40% less empathy than those 20 and 30 years before them. The article lays out a laundry list of culprits, from child-rearing practices and the self-help movement, to video games and social media, to a free-market economy and income inequality. There's also a link so you can test your very own level of narcissism. Let's hope the Slashdot crowd doesn't break the empathy counter on the downside."
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Students Show a Dramatic Drop In Empathy

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  • Oh god.. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anrego (830717) * on Sunday May 30, 2010 @05:35PM (#32400404)

    .. the linked test reminds me of those "what job are you best suited for" tests we got in school. The ones which after answering at least 100 very transparent and subjective questions would recommend you become a garbage man, an astronaut, or maybe a carpenter.

    And all the questions are the same.. they could have essentially made the whole thing two questions:

    1) are you empathetic
    2) are you _NOT_ empathetic

    Personally I think people are just as self centered now as always and we've just gotten better (supposedly) at measuring it.

    It's like how mental illness would appear to be on the rise. It could be legitimate change, or it could be that we've come up with fancy names for kids who back in the day would've just been called "a little slow" and/or ended up in a job where no one would notice.

    • Re:Oh god.. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Sunday May 30, 2010 @05:38PM (#32400424) Homepage Journal
      It's much more sinister than that. Gotta look at it from 2 perspectives: ideal and pragmatic. Everybody daydreams about a Star-trek utopia, where all races without a need for money hold hands and dance around the replicator without a care in the world.

      But - humans, like everything else that walks or swims or flagellates in nature, are just animals. The primitive, tribalist pack mentality is seen at all levels of human interaction, from sports teams to H.O.A.'s to the ethnocentricism of entire corporations, countries, and races. Modern technology enables the development and prosperity of more and more lone wolves. People are becoming greedier and greedier with unprecedented thirst for power and control. Think about the countless empires of the past, and recently Nazi Germany and now the United States. Only the naive believe that their bleeding-heart protests and righteous indignation will force the arm of nature itself. We are wicked creatures. The meek will not inherit the Earth.

      Why do we find pleasure in others' pain? Why do we laugh when Wile. E. Coyote has an anvil dropped on his head or when Dick Van Dyke trips over the ottoman? Simple: more resources are available to us when others are taken outta the game.

      We. Are. Fucked. The best thing you can do is just get yours -- live your life under the radar, grab a bag of popcorn, and chuckle bitterly at the evening news.
      • Re:Oh god.. (Score:5, Informative)

        by Third Position (1725934) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @05:45PM (#32400478)

        You're getting closer to the truth. See Robert Putnam. [boston.com]

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Macrat (638047)

        Very true.

        You forgot the corporate environment, where the best asshole gets the promotions.

        • Re:Oh god.. (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Cylix (55374) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @06:42PM (#32400990) Homepage Journal

          That pretty much describes the entire process.

          Don't spend time helping those on objects that are out of your scope. Actively dissuade others from wasting your time regardless of the benefits you can bring to their team. Assisting teammates and other competitive entities will reduce your overall time spent on your projects.

          When possible, shout as loudly as you can regarding the faults of those who are in direct competition or could at least could be blamed for your problems. In the game who shouts the loudest it is he with the deepest lungs who wins!

          While I recognize all of these things are true I did not practice them. I likely could have been promoted faster had I not taken a more altruistic tact with regards to those around me. However, I felt it made my life and others around me a bit better if I focused on things other then completing my major projects and career growth.

          However, life would probably have been a good deal easier if I was a complete bastard. Possibly, it could have resulted in even further monetary gain. The mistakes of youth!

          I am mostly out of the rat race now and I actually make a good deal more. I suspect hell is much like corporate america, but with better benefits and more free time.

          • Re:Oh god.. (Score:4, Interesting)

            by cp.tar (871488) <cp.tar.bz2@gmail.com> on Sunday May 30, 2010 @07:26PM (#32401368) Journal

            The corporate culture, such as it is, is that of a sociopath against a sociopath. Such behavior is expected, promoted and nurtured.
            I would not like living in it one little bit. I do not want the stress of fending off those who are out to get me nor the effort of setting them up for failure. It seems like too large a waste of effort. And while I am and can be a complete and utter bastard, I like myself much more when I’m not being one.

            I am well aware that in certain ways I will never be considered successful by the majority. I am fine with that.
            After all, what I think of the majority isn’t something to be talked about during dinner.

          • Re:Oh god.. (Score:4, Interesting)

            by izomiac (815208) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @11:53PM (#32403478) Homepage
            Altruism exists in nature, so it can be a successful strategy. From evolution, the concept of trait group selection is probably applicable. In nature, lots of animals form transient groups, and I think you could apply that model to businesses as well.

            Trait group selection has two rules.
            • Groups with a higher portion of altruists are more successful
            • Within a group, altruists are out-competed by selfish individuals

            From an evolutionary perspective, this translates to a group with 7 altruists and 3 cheaters increasing in size to 10 altruists and 5 cheaters. The portion of altruists in the group decreases, the total number of altruists increases, the large group fragments into smaller groups with varying portions of altruists, and the process is repeated.

            Applying that to humans, in a small company altruism ensures the company's growth and everyone's paycheck (theoretically) increases. In a large company there are far too many selfish individuals for an altruist to really get ahead. OTOH, humans are skilled at detecting and excluding selfish individuals, and the selfish individuals are skilled at evading detection. So it's definitely more complicated than simple natural selection, though with reduced interpersonal interaction this confounding effect would be minimized.

        • I'm the corporate asshole, thank you very much.

          I also scored a 38 on that empathy quiz(bottom 10%), which explains why I do so well at work.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Capsaicin (412918)

            I also scored a 38 on that empathy quiz(bottom 10%), which explains why I do so well at work.

            It also demonstrates why you can't leave it to certain individuals to be good. Obviously legislative intervention is required :P

      • Re:Oh god.. (Score:5, Informative)

        by BasilBrush (643681) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @06:24PM (#32400830)

        Why do we laugh when Wile. E. Coyote has an anvil dropped on his head or when Dick Van Dyke trips over the ottoman? Simple: more resources are available to us when others are taken outta the game.

        That's wrong. We only laugh when we know that the person/animated character is not seriously hurt. Every animated character that comes to harm, may at first appear harmed, but always reappears later in perfect health. Even in the more extremely violent animated comedy - Itchy and Scratchy. The same is true of real life. If someone falls, our first reaction is the need to know whether they are OK or not. If they are uninjured, then we may find it funny. If they are injured, then we do not find it funny.

        (Of course there are sociopaths to whom this general rule may not apply. Also when we are completely removed from witnessing or emotional involvement in the incident or the victim, e.g. The Darwin Awards.)

        In fact the laugh probably originates as an "all clear" signal amongst ape ancestors. When danger has disappeared, or it was a false alarm, we laugh. Thus the association between laughing and pleasure.

        • Re:Oh god.. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by negRo_slim (636783) <mils_oRgen@hotmail.com> on Sunday May 30, 2010 @06:33PM (#32400912)

          Why do we laugh when Wile. E. Coyote has an anvil dropped on his head or when Dick Van Dyke trips over the ottoman? Simple: more resources are available to us when others are taken outta the game.

          We laugh as our brains try and reconcile seemingly incompatible aspects of a situation, this mechanism and good feelings associated with laughter enable us to understand the world around us.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          As an animator and a fan of comedy... You're correct.

          We dont laugh at Wile E Coyote because we enjoy his suffering. We laugh at it because we know its not real. I always find it interesting that some people can enjoy racial humor, and not be racist. Its completely possible to separate yourself from reality in humor. Humor is based on truth and exaggeration.

          We've all heard a great Christopher Reeve joke in our life time... and we probably laughed. That does not mean that we honestly take pleasure in his suff

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by omfgnosis (963606)

        I think, as a contrary point of view, it might be that people's perception of human nature reflects their perception of themselves or their own place in humanity.

        It's not controversial to say that humans have a competitive nature (and by extension, can exhibit greed even at the needless expense of others), but it's no more controversial to say that humans have a cooperative nature (and by extension, can exhibit empathy and altruism even at the needless expense of themselves). It's probably also not controve

      • Re:Oh god.. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by RevWaldo (1186281) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @07:29PM (#32401386)

        Why do we find pleasure in others' pain? Why do we laugh when Wile. E. Coyote has an anvil dropped on his head or when Dick Van Dyke trips over the ottoman? Simple: more resources are available to us when others are taken outta the game.

        You've got it wrong. We find it funny because we emphasize with their predicament. Nearly every time Wile fails he looks at the camera with pleading eyes before he gets clobbered. Even as little kids we're thinking "Oh, I know what thats like LOL." Conversely you can't root for a character that wins all the time; who didn't want Wile to finally catch that fucking road runner? (Same goes for Dick Van Dyke. You'll note in later seasons he practically dances around the ottoman instead of tripping on it, and we're quietly happy for him.)

        .

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        But - humans, like everything else that walks or swims or flagellates in nature, are just animals. The primitive, tribalist pack mentality is seen at all levels of human interaction, from sports teams to H.O.A.'s to the ethnocentricism of entire corporations, countries, and races.

        Tribalism != lack of empathy. Quite the opposite, in fact. Humans are indeed animals -- social animals, and like all such, identification with other members of our group is an inherent part of our nature as a species. We're a lot more like wolves than we are like tigers.

        Now, it's true that tribalism tends to discourage identification with members of other tribes, but that's because we tend to define them as not-quite-human. The solution seems to be one we have, in fact, implemented fairly successfully s

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by hairyfeet (841228)

        I think a quote from one of my favorite movies sums up the current attitude quite well "You sharpen the human appetite to the point where it can split atoms with its desire; you build egos the size of cathedrals; fiber-optically connect the world to every eager impulse; grease even the dullest dreams with these dollar-green, gold-plated fantasies, until every human becomes an aspiring emperor, becomes his own God... and where can you go from there? "

        Why didn't we have "lifestyles of the rich and famous" and

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by testadicazzo (567430)

        We. Are. Fucked. The best thing you can do is just get yours -- live your life under the radar, grab a bag of popcorn, and chuckle bitterly at the evening news.

        You affect the system that your are observing. The fact that your destructive conviction is shared by so many people is a large part of what is destroying us, both as a nation and as a species. You belief is also easily falsified with a simple look at history. I would suggest, for example, Howard Zinn's "A people's history of the united states",

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Personally I think people are just as self centered now as always and we've just gotten better (supposedly) at measuring it.

      We've gotten better at tallying these 2 numbers?

      1) are you empathetic
      2) are you _NOT_ empathetic

      I'm glad your post makes sense. Thanks!

    • Broken test (Score:3, Funny)

      by biryokumaru (822262)
      Also, the test is broken. You still receive a point for the lowest option, so the minimum score is 20%. This is why psych majors need to take more math.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by CheshireCatCO (185193)

        That's taken into account in the rating, though. You can't really judge a score (if you can at all) without context of the rest of the population anyway. So floating the bottom score above zero points doesn't change much any more than having an effective minimum score on the SAT does.

    • Re:Oh god.. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MrHanky (141717) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @06:07PM (#32400690) Homepage Journal

      We're getting better at measuring it? With that kind of test? It's basically asking "are you a good/bad person?" in a number of different ways. Maybe people are more (or less) honest about how they answer that kind of questionaires now, maybe they have a less idealised views of themselves, maybe they just don't give a fuck about what an anonymous questionaire says about them. Then there are questions like "Before criticizing somebody, I try to imagine how I would feel if I were in their place" -- which, if you can't help but doing that anyway, makes you come across as a callous motherfucker if you correctly answer "Does not describe me well". It's a shit test, and measures nothing.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by SomeKDEUser (1243392)

      In fact, this test is worse than that: it asks for your ethnic background. Basically, it assumes that you feel that you are more connected to a group of human based on essentially the colour of your skin.

      And then the bastards claim that "young people these day have no empathy".

      Also this test does not measure actual empathy (as in, what you do for your neighbour -- where current generations are in fact better than their elders) But essentially how good you are at emoting over things.

      Claiming you care emotion

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      >And all the questions are the same.. they could have essentially made the whole thing two questions: 1) are you empathetic 2) are you _NOT_ empathetic

      It's very typical Sociology 101 assignment. If you click through to the results, all they did was add up the questions and then compare you to the average. Umm...

      This would fail Sociology 101. First of all, the questions are supposed to be cross-referenced to the population groups (age, gender, and ethnicity). You might as well not answer those first th

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fractoid (1076465)

      And all the questions are the same.. they could have essentially made the whole thing two questions:

      1) are you empathetic 2) are you _NOT_ empathetic

      Exactly. My thought while taking the test was that it's pretty useless, because true narcissists (with the cluster-B personality disorder) often lack the ability for introspection. They'll THINK they're the most caring, kind-hearted person in the world (because let's face it, they're great people, and great people are caring and kind-hearted, so they MUST be). You should really be asking their friends and family members these questions.

  • The guy who wrote Beating the College Bubble [edububble.com] says that the cost of college debt is so high, everyone should feel empathy for the students [edububble.com], not demand empathy from them. I agree. (For a Slashdot review, read this [slashdot.org].)
    • by cappp (1822388) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @06:08PM (#32400702)
      What's odd is that the numbers constantly show that this generation is one of the most socially involved yet. They volunteer all the time. Do charity work. Involve themselves in causes in record numbers. Call their mothers. I guess it could be argued that in an increasingly competitve world all these things look great on a college application but that doesn't explain why college kids keep doing these things. I doubt any social service really helps in the employment fields, and I'd doubt if the Employment offices on campus suggest otherwise.

      I found a decent summary article at http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-10-23-gen-next-cover_x.htm [usatoday.com] which had some intersting counter points

      A growing body of academic and market research suggests millennials — who are in their mid-20s and younger — are civic-minded and socially conscious as individuals, consumers and employees.

      61% of 13- to 25-year-olds feel personally responsible for making a difference in the world, suggests a survey of 1,800 young people to be released today. It says 81% have volunteered in the past year; 69% consider a company's social and environmental commitment when deciding where to shop, and 83% will trust a company more if it is socially/environmentally responsible.
      Two-thirds of college freshmen (66%) believe it's essential or very important to help others in difficulty, suggests a survey of 263,710 students at 385 U.S. colleges and universities. The 2005 report, by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California at Los Angeles, found feelings of social and civic responsibility among entering freshmen at the highest level in 25 years.
      Volunteerism by college students increased by 20% from 2002 to 2005, says a study released last week by the federal Corporation for National and Community Service.

      Maybe I'm overstating the point but I just don't see how volunteering as a local fireman whilst studying Physics, or working with disabled kids whilst studying History, or spending hours in retirement communities while trying to do something fancy with election data from the last 20 years, can be defined as anything but empathetic. That's the kind of thing my peers were fulling their time with.

      Finally, regarding the debt question - in my experience I've found that those with the biggest debts are the ones with most empathy. Those with debts of over 200k are damn near living saints. Same goes for those on financial aid really. It's a damn small sample I know but it sure as hell felt like the ones doing the most good on my campus were also the ones recieving the most aid. There's always space for a cynical interpretation but it's of unknown value in this situation.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by caitsith01 (606117)

        What I found troubling about the questions was that they conflated "irrationality" with "empathy". I would say I am a very empathetic person, but only where I rationally observe that empathy is warranted. In my mind, "empathy" is quite different from sentimental, irrational refusal to link consequences to earlier actions.

        Some of the questions, however, seem to require me to choose between "empathy" and rationality:

        Sometimes I don't feel very sorry for other people when they are having problems.

        What kind

  • Who cares? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @05:38PM (#32400426)

    I don't give a rat's ass about what college kids feel!

    • by An Onerous Coward (222037) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @05:48PM (#32400508) Homepage

      Ha! My test said I'm empathetic as hell. Take that, you hard-hearted, non-empathizing bastards!

    • Re:Who cares? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by phantomfive (622387) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @06:04PM (#32400658) Journal
      I know, I read the first question, which was,

      1. I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me.

      and humbly thought, "How can I possibly feel that way about everyone?" The study is biased.

      • by phantomfive (622387) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @06:53PM (#32401076) Journal
        Wow, I got modded insightful for that, way to boost my ego!! Thanks whoever you are, my superiority complex thanks you!!
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by J. J. Ramsey (658)

        I thought the next couple questions were also badly thought out:

        2. Sometimes I don't feel very sorry for other people when they are having problems.

        Well, yes, sometimes I don't feel sorry. If someone who has hurt others goes to jail or gets hoisted by his/her own petard, then, no, I'm not going to feel too sorry.

        This question is even worse:

        3. When I see someone being taken advantage of, I feel kind of protective towards them.

        Protective? I'll probably feel frustrated, instead. I'm hardly likely to be in a p

  • by mykos (1627575) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @05:40PM (#32400440)
    Subject one contains 160 milliempathetals, while subject two's milliempathetals measure only 96.
  • by boomgopher (627124) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @05:41PM (#32400442) Journal
    No, that's not a scientific opinion. But it is my opinion.
  • I'm not taking that test. Fuck you. I've got better things to do with my time. How'd I do? D'oh! Points off for asking. Not that it matters.

  • by Black Gold Alchemist (1747136) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @05:41PM (#32400454)
    You know, after hearing this, I felt the need to write extensively about the subject on facebook, so everyone can see what I feel.
  • 37.1% 26/70 - I need to work on this, it is about 30.1 percent too high for my liking.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 30, 2010 @05:49PM (#32400516)

    you (the west) hold up crack dealers and gangsters as heroes (50cent et al), corporate psychopaths are held up as examples of "successful business leaders" and have TV shows (the apprentice) where people are expected to emulate these leaders in "ruthless business decisions", where kids see a class of people rip off their savings and retirements (bankers) and have 0 consequences, where a celebrity class are held up as models of behaviour where you dont work but shop on your working husbands/wifes credit cards or your rich dads inheritance

    and you are surprised there is less empathy ?
    i'm surprised there are no fucking lynch mobs

    • by Ethanol-fueled (1125189) * on Sunday May 30, 2010 @06:09PM (#32400714) Homepage Journal

      i'm surprised there are no fucking lynch mobs

      I agree wholeheartedly with your first paragraph, but apathy and lack of empathy go hand-in-hand in the United States. As you correctly pointed out, it's mostly about getting as much money doing as little work as possible. To participate in a lynch mob would mean having to crowbar oneself out of their La-Z-Boy chair.

      Besides, we prefer to keep our government-sanctioned lynch mobs in others' countries. That way we can cheer 'em on from our sofas, as if our military were our favorite sports team at an away game.

    • by JustinOpinion (1246824) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @06:34PM (#32400918)

      you (the west) hold up crack dealers and gangsters as heroes (50cent et al),

      Not really. Or rather, it's nothing new. They are not being held up as "heroes" but rather are a way of marketing to the youth. The youth always want to differentiate themselves and thus need "shocking" idols/icons to rally around. In previous generations swinging hips were plenty shocking (Elvis, etc.), then suggestion of sexuality (Madonna, etc.), and nowadays kids latch onto things like "gangsters" in order to paint a "shocking" line in the sand and differentiate themselves from their parents.

      However, in all cases those kids seem to grow up to be reasonably intelligent and responsible adults. You could argue that the fact that the icons have to get progressively more "intense" is a testament to our eroding values. Or, it could just be that society is becoming more liberal and interconnected, so that the "shocking bar" keeps being raised. Regardless, the vast majority of kids don't actually want to become gangsters (nor did the vast majority want to be sluts or whatever in previous generations...).

      corporate psychopaths are held up as examples of "successful business leaders"

      Again, nothing new. Ruthless leaders have existed for millennia. Successful ruthless leaders have always been admired for what they accomplish, though they've almost always been simultaneously despised for their tactics. In fact this is just a manifestation of the human animal's internally conflicting drives: we have an intense drive to win/compete alongside an intense drive to collaborate/socialize.

      where kids see a class of people rip off their savings and retirements (bankers) and have 0 consequences

      A bad example to our children, to be sure. But again nothing new. That the rich and powerful collude to protect themselves (and do so successfully) is not a modern trend.

      where a celebrity class are held up as models of behaviour where you dont work but shop on your working husbands/wifes credit cards or your rich dads inheritance

      There have been aristocracies of sorts (whether royal families, or the "old money" super-rich, or celebrities) across history. They are idolized largely because people dream of their power/riches, and also because the gossip they enable taps into our innate socializing behaviors.

      and you are surprised there is less empathy ?

      You've identified many idiosyncratic ills in our society. However I question whether there is anything novel about them. It seems to me that these arguably counter-productive human behaviors are as old as history itself.

      I question the research from TFA, and I question your attempt to explain the purported trend. Every generation seems to decry the previous generation, believing that people used to be hard-working and moral, whereas the up-and-coming generation is lazy and corrupt and will ruin society. Yet every time, the new generation becomes rather similar to the old (which is both good and bad: they are just as hard-working, but they also lose their youthful idealism and never realize the reform they used to profess).

      The problem is that every generation has only two points of reference: their childhood (which their faulty memories paint as being pleasant, etc.) and the current state (where kids get on their nerves). They can't accurately compare to past generations so they assume that the perceived local 'decay' is real rather than illusory. If every generation were right about how kids are worse (lazier, dumber, less moral, etc.), then how does society keep on ticking?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by caitsith01 (606117)

      you (the west) hold up crack dealers and gangsters as heroes (50cent et al), corporate psychopaths are held up as examples of "successful business leaders" and have TV shows (the apprentice) where people are expected to emulate these leaders in "ruthless business decisions", where kids see a class of people rip off their savings and retirements (bankers) and have 0 consequences, where a celebrity class are held up as models of behaviour where you dont work but shop on your working husbands/wifes credit cards or your rich dads inheritance

      and you are surprised there is less empathy ?
      i'm surprised there are no fucking lynch mobs

      I don't disagree with you that we have poor role models, and it's not a counter-argument, but implicit in your post appears to be the suggestion that other parts of the world have better role models.

      So, who shall we emulate?

      Africa: corrupt, murderous tyrants widely revered as great leaders because at least they're not white colonialists; ancient tribal divisions regarded as more important than justice or democracy; women and minorities openly oppressed in many places

      Asia: systematic corruption considered no

  • Not true (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    People were self-centered before, and is self-centered now. The fortunate few who work with spiritual / humanistic matters, are the lucky few to reap most benefits off empathy, helping their fellow neighbours in the process as well as uplifting their own spirit.

    However, the environment is much different now. Many people are today free to chose whatever they want. The resources and assistance is available everywhere.

    When life is HARD, you will see a big rise in empathy..

    This will never be modded up though, d

    • by roman_mir (125474)

      like it's a bad thing that there is an abundance, fuck empathy, ipods are much more satisfying.

  • by technomancerX (86975) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @05:50PM (#32400532) Homepage

    So am I the only one noticing the growing trend to vilify capitalism and individualism in this country? Last I checked self-determination and free market capitalism were some of the founding principles of this country, yet I'm increasingly seeing these traits being blamed for all of society's problems. I find this highly disturbing, along with the disappearance of a major political party interested in smaller, less pervasive government.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      I notice this too, and when I saw this on reddit before it got on slashdot I noticed how "individualism" is lumped in with all sorts or negative personality traits--there's nothing wrong with individualism, and nothing wrong with helping other people out, the two are not mutually exclusive even though many view "collectivism" to be more caring, etc, and it is often treated that way in the very confused (IMO; on this topic..) social science literature, and it should be noted that more individualistic countri

  • by King_TJ (85913) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @05:51PM (#32400554) Journal

    I'd argue that one of the "poisons" of modern society is all the garbage where "nobody loses". We have contests in school these days where everyone wins a prize.... Instead of coming in "last" and "losing", you get a 4th. or 5th. place ribbon. Instead of letting people score poorly on tests, you've got people trying to change the scores around. And instead of "hurting someone's feelings" - there's this whole thing of labeling them as having some sort of "disorder", implying they can't help their actions and they need special consideration/treatment.

    If this generation is lacking some of THAT empathy, that's a step in the right direction!

    • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Sunday May 30, 2010 @08:40PM (#32401988) Homepage

      Well I can actually see that sort of thing as causing a lack of real empathy. You get fed up with people being coddled, and when someone finally feels the consequences for their actions, there's a part of you that thinks, "it's about damn time!"

      On the other side there's the Ayn Rand neocon capitalism-as-morality stuff which is opposed to that sort of coddling and believes that people always get what they deserve. This doesn't encourage empathy either, because those people are prone to assume that people who suffer have brought it on themselves.

      Plus a lot of younger people have been raised to think that you can't help people, they can only help themselves. You can't make someone happy, only they can make themselves happy. Part of that whole new age pop psychology is that it implies that sadness is a sign of perrsonal weakness, and that "good people" can just make themselves happy all the time.

  • by kheldan (1460303) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @05:54PM (#32400572) Journal
    These sorts of tests/surveys are pretty useless. Unlike something like the MMPI [wikipedia.org], which is difficult at best to game, the linked survey is very transparent; you can answer it specifically to get the results you want. That being said it seems that especially since the world economy took it's drastic downturn the world in general has become (for lack of a better term) a more evil place, overall; when times are good and there is plenty for all, it's easy to "pretend" to be not-evil. When the going gets rough, you find out what people are really like beneath the surface.
  • 5. When I see someone being treated unfairly, I SOMETIMES don't feel very much pity for them.
    Sometimes! Of course sometimes! If i've had a terrible day and if the person being treated unfairly is my boss who takes every opportunity he can to insult criticize and put everyone else down and who we therefore bully relentlessly.. then yes SOMETIMES i don't feel much pitty. If you treat people like crap they'll do the same to you.

    even with all those silly adverbs 84.3% I got. I cry when I watch the news an
  • None of the questions have any surrounding context that would add or subtract from any feelings of empathy I may or may not have. Whether I (or anyone else, for that matter) feels empathy towards a subject depends greatly on the circumstances. Do I feel empathy towards the folks being impacted by the gulf oil spill? Sure. Why? Because their way of life is being altered in ways we can't even begin to measure through no fault of their own. Do I feel empathy for a guy who burned himself to a crisp becaus
  • Rather a Poor Metric (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CheshireCatCO (185193) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @05:56PM (#32400604) Homepage

    OK, while I can imagine a lot of reasons why the current generation of college kids might be less empathetic than 20 years ago*, this is not a good way to measure that. For all the researchers know, students are just more self-aware and self-critical today than they were 20 years ago. In some ways, getting a high score might be more likely to say that you're less empathetic and just oblivious to your callousness.

    * This isn't my experience, though. I feel, as a college professor, like my students behave just as empathetically towards each other as we did 15 years ago.

    • by Antisyzygy (1495469) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @08:40PM (#32401986)
      "What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?" -Plato
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cvd6262 (180823)

      As a professor, I agree with your observation that empathetic behaviors have not changed in the last 20 years. I wonder if real empathy has remained the same or are students today just better at faking it. (Conversely, they could be more empathetic and worse at showing it.)

      The relation between the measurement results and the actual trait would need to be established, assuming we could get an objective measure of empathy.

      All TFA shows is that student perception of their own empathy, as measured by self-repor

  • Terrible test (Score:4, Interesting)

    by revlayle (964221) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @06:07PM (#32400692) Homepage
    I come off as not empathetic... however, I try very hard to see everything from everyone's point of view, I try to see all sides and be in someone else shoes before making any judgement. However, people do a lot of stupid stuff and I believe that they deserve the consequences for doing said stupid things. I may see *why* they did that stupid thing and try understand their motivation, but not sorry for them when they face the consequences. I expect people to view me the same way when I do stupid things. Life also is not fair, people bitching that things go wrong all the time for them (even if it clearly not their fault or when things aren't really that bad) are speaking to the choir... we all go thru that shit, suck it up and try to see the good days (or at least the "not bad" days). The bad days are frustrating, we get it... we don't want to hear it all the time :)
  • by spruce (454842) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @06:07PM (#32400694) Journal

    Isn't this one we can pretty much all agree is /b/'s fault?

  • Worthless test (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SplatMan_DK (1035528) * on Sunday May 30, 2010 @06:07PM (#32400700) Homepage Journal
    It is sad to see such an important topic treated like this. The test is practically worthless. It has absolutely no control questions and the structure makes no distinction between what people think of themselves and how they act in real life.

    I suspect the majority of people scoring over 50 points are in fact egocentric narcissists who think they are very empathic.

    Please. We might be ./ers but we are still IT geeks. We can easily spot a mediocre or poorly constructed "test" and there is really no reason to waste our time with something on this level of quality (or lack thereof).

    Yes. Really.


    - Jesper
  • Empathy burnout (Score:3, Interesting)

    by russotto (537200) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @08:00PM (#32401614) Journal

    I blame Sally Struthers. You deluge people for years and years and years with the plight of others and demand they feel bad about it (usually in a cynical attempt to obtain donations), and people grow themselves a nice hard shell.

  • Garbage survey. (Score:4, Informative)

    by Eric S. Smith (162) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @10:07PM (#32402658) Homepage

    When one of the questions is "Are you empathetic?" and the answer "yes" results in your being scored as empathetic, the test is, as others have noted, unlikely to provide any insight. The only way this little test works is as a sort of meta-test: if you can't pick a result and get it on the first try, you're not very good at imagining what the person who designed it was thinking.

    Just by answering each question by giving the strongest response in what I judged to be the appropriate direction, I was able to score 70/70 on the empathy scale on the very first try. For my second trick, I successfully scored the minimum possible, an angry red 1/5 on each question. I didn't even bother to systematically check my previous friendly green 5/5 answers and reverse them.

    For what it's worth, I then made a half-way honest attempt, without any real soul-searching, to pick responses that I felt described me fairly, picking the middle of the scale on the most egregiously ambiguous statements, and I scored bang in the middle: 51/70. I think it's safe to say that the results mean nothing, alas, so I still can't settle the question of whether I'm an android or not.

  • 70/70 (Score:4, Funny)

    by JackSpratts (660957) on Sunday May 30, 2010 @11:11PM (#32403156) Homepage

    i got a perfect score. seriously.

    now go fuck off.

    - js.

  • Blame Aspartame (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dtjohnson (102237) on Monday May 31, 2010 @12:11AM (#32403604)

    Okay, wild, but stay with me here. Aspartame is a known [diet-and-e...health.com]
    neurotoxin (i.e. mildly toxic to brain tissue) and previous studies
    have shown that damage [sfgate.com]
    to certain areas of the brain reduces empathy. Personal
    experience with two friends who became addicted to diet pop and
    suffered significant personality changes including a major loss of
    empathy first suggested this. Okay, this is anecdotal
    but what's a better theory?

  • by Kjella (173770) on Monday May 31, 2010 @12:47AM (#32403852) Homepage

    At least here in Norway, which I must admit has experienced an extreme rise in wealth over the last decades due to oil, I would say that by far most people trying to appeal to my empathy in daily life don't deserve it. I'm very fond of our many social securities for the disabled, elderly, unemployed, our socialized health care and pay a pretty penny in taxes without grumbling too much - but the flip side of that is that I know that people are also quite well taken care of. What I get in my daily life is usually obnoxious rom (that's gypsies with a PR touch) beggars who are really organized bands placing them out, protecting their territory and faking their desperation. The same bands who are grossly overrepresented in our criminal statistics by the way, supporting them is supporting organized crime.

    To continue on that, I have very little empathy with criminals and very much empathy with victims, when we create what is probably the world's most luxurious prison [bitrebels.com] I feel like puking. Not because I'm in favor of stuffing them in a dark hole with a mud floor, but because I want that money put into police protection and getting more criminals off the streets. Quantity, not quality absolutely does matter in this respect. The punishments in this country is an insult to everyone who has been beaten, mugged, raped or murdered. The money spent is an insult to all those elderly who spent their best years rebuilding after WWII and need help on their elder days and instead we spend it on the people bent on tearing society down instead of building it up.

    I'm very much in favor of programs that provide opportunity, like for example here in Norway there is a lot of public higher education and a government sponsored grant/loan institution which means that practically everyone that wants to can take an education. I come from a family that would no doubt have sponsored a college education and a college fund, so quite likely I'm losing money by this being a public system. But at the same time I feel very empathic to children that grow up in less fortunate families or perhaps more egoistic families who don't have that backing. I know it's not fully that black and white in the US either, but your background definitely has much more impact there than here.

    What I notice is that in the US there's much stronger opposition to any form of government "empathy" so to speak, Obama would be a right-wing extremist in most European coutries. Everybody should fend for themselves, and if they can't they should beg for private charity. My impression is that both for people and corporations it's whatever position is most opportunistic at the moment though. Here on the other hand the government should provide most of the first and second level of Maslow's pyramid, physiological and safety needs. Maybe it's just because we're richer, but I don't think so because I see the difference in our neighboring countries too which aren't that rich - not richer than the US anyway. I'm not sure whether it's because we're more empathic and just accept this as natural, or more collectivist and figure that deciding it by popular vote is justification enough. Either way, it also lowers the need for personal empathy, I don't give two bucks to a beggar because I give that and much more each day through taxes.

    The other big difference is in health care, the US seems very happy to meter our medical punishment for bad lifestyle. While we tax the hell out of alcohol, tobacco and all other sorts of unhealthy things here, we don't ever withhold medical help. Despite being very big on individuality and freedom of life, if you want a band aid either from charity or the government then most seem to think your life should be splayed wide open for inspection to determine if you're worthy. Here there's a different interaction between the health system and patient, trust me the doctors will give you straight talk about what you are doing to your body but we won't play t

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by OrangeTide (124937)

      The opposition exists because we ask ourselves this: is the government's primary purpose to govern or be a charity organization?

      For the more extreme libertarians, the spin goes like this: is the government here to support your freedoms, or forcibly extract property from people to support politically motivated wealth redistribution?

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