today’s collegians less empathetic

A New York Times article (that apparently appears in the print edition today?) alerted me to a recent social psych study of import to the field of college ministry:

“Changes in Dispositional Empathy in American College Students Over Time: A Meta-Analysis”

Presented last month at a professional gathering in Boston, the study looks across 30 years of college students – covering some 14,000 students in all – and notes that empathy seems to have taken a drop, particularly in this past decade.

From the NYT article:

…Dr. Konrath measured four aspects of “interpersonal sensitivity”: Empathic concern, or sympathy, over the misfortunes of others; perspective taking, an intellectual capacity to imagine other people’s points of view; fantasy or people’s tendency to identify imaginatively with fictional characters in books or movies; and personal distress, which refers to the anguish one feels during others’ misfortunes. …

Today’s students scored significantly lower in empathic concern (a 48 percent decrease) and perspective taking (34 percent), considered the more important indices of empathy.

It’s interesting to note that this comes with the Generational territory, since Millennials began entering college in the mid-2000s. (The NYT notes earlier in that article that this is “Vindication for crotchety Gen-Xers.”) Just like Generational studies, a study like this considers the group – averages, etc. – and not individuals. Individuals may still be extremely empathetic… but our mission field as a whole seems to be waning in this quality.

You may have to sign in to see the New York Times synopsis; other good options include the Time wrap-up and the longer (but awkwardly formatted) MSNBC article.

You can also take an empathy quiz to see how you personally compare with three decades’ worth of college students.

I’ve requested an apparently free copy of the report, and I’ll let you know if I find anything else helpful for campus ministry!


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