Is our use of the Internet and social media making us cold and callous? Research implies empathy may be going the way of the dinosaur. To not care seems to be in style, particularly with generation “me.” (college students)
The University of Michigan Institute for Social Research completed a study on a somewhat unique topic. Over a 30-year time period, they looked at college students and their degree of empathy.
You may ask, “what does that mean, anyway?” Boiling it down to its simplest form, you could call it a measure of basic kindness and decency. Can that really be measured? According to the study, it can.
Researcher Sara Konrath and her colleagues pointed out several interesting observances about people and their ability to empathize:
- College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago, with the steepest decline in empathy taking place after the year 2000.
- In a related but separate study, Americans feel people, in general, are not as kind or helpful.
- The recent rise of social media may also play a role in the drop in empathy.
- “The ease of having ‘friends’ online might make people more likely to just tune out when they don’t feel like responding to others’ problems, a behavior that could carry over offline.
- Exposure to violent media numbs people to the pain of others.
- The term, “do-gooder’’ can be an insult, students driven by a fear of failure are likely to equate being soft-hearted with vulnerability.
Empathy, or the lack thereof, has been front and center recently because of some of the senseless behavior of people who seemingly don’t have a clue about how their actions affect others. Consider the recent story about Tyler Clementi, a student at Rutgers University that was bullied over the Internet. A cyber prank/attack allegedly involving streaming video of him put out on the web, lead to him committing suicide. A note on his Facebook page simply said, “Jumping off the GW bridge, sorry.”
Unfortunately, there are a number of stories like this. Maybe all of them are not as severe, but people do/say/show things online that cause others harm. The sad thing is, according to this study, some people in our world are not aware they are hurting people and are less likely to actually care.
Here are some questions to consider and for comment.
- Are advances in technology, online communication and general connectedness causing the destruction of our very existence?
- In general, do you feel more connected with people because you know everything about them through Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, etc.?
- Are you more apt to say something online you wouldn’t dare say to someone’s face?
- Are you more comfortable with your online interactions than your face-to-face interactions?
Photo credit: Veer.com