Empathy - Changed? Causes?

I was reading a book by a respected Canadian emergency doctor on the importance of empathy. It’s a good read.

At the beginning of the book, he quotes a study saying that empathy in the younger generations has decreased forty percent over a mere twenty years.

Now, I have not read the study. It might not be true. It probably refers to sone sort of scale, abd it may not be validated or valid.

But if people are becoming significantly less empathetic, over a mere twenty years, what is the cause of this?

The education system giving too few positive examples of this at the expense of self-confidence? Too much screen time? Social media? A 24 hours news cycle dramatizing every tchotchke? Cynical political leadership? What says you?

If you have positive Greta Thunbergian examples that imply the hypothesis is false, or other examples of positive empathy, please share these too.

One factor I can think of :

  • Few examples of empathy in movies. Think of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, the goal is to save everyone on the planet or half the people in the universe. But at the individual level, physical injuries are inconsequential – unless mortal, in which case the suffering never lasts more than 2 minutes. As for mental injuries, they’re nonexistent : everyone is tough as nails, they may cry for 30 seconds if their true love gets killed but that will just make them stronger.

You may be onto something. I do believe that the kinds of narrative fiction we consume can have a significant effect on our level of empathy.

A lot of religions value empathy, and people are less religious nowadays. So there could be a cause-and-effect relationship there.

I think too much screen time comes closest. I mean that we have a tendency to fictionalize what we see on screen, even if it is a real even unfolding before our eyes. Since we don’t perceive real people with real suffering, we don’t feel it.

I just don’t buy it. Empathy is literally the argument behind most of the social changes occurring today. What I believe has actually happened is that people who were previously not very empathetic have had to become far more public about it, rather than pretending they supported it.

So it’s more a change in cultural perception. It’s become okay in some circles to not pretend to have empathy. But these people didn’t have empathy before, either.

As Big T says, isn’t empathy a huge part of movements to be more inclusive and to support peoples’ differences and sensitivities?

Of course, there might be an aspect of people being more willing to publicly advocate empathy, as opposed to actually feeling/acting upon it.

What study? What years was it looking at, who was sampled, and what trends were in the data?

For all I know you could be talking about a 2010 study of college students which looked at data from the '70s thru 2000, which obviously wouldn’t have any bearing on the younger generation today, since the sample would be age 40-74 by now.