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May 28, 2010

Empathy

Another interesting study:

College students today are less likely to "get" the emotions of others than their counterparts 20 and 30 years ago, a new review study suggests.

Specifically, today's students scored 40 percent lower on a measure of empathy than their elders did.

The findings are based on a review of 72 studies of 14,000 American college students overall conducted between 1979 and 2009.

Caveat: I'm not sure that reviewing 72 studies conducted over a 30 year period is the same as conducting the same survey multiple times over a 30 year period but let's set that aside for a moment. This is a bit disturbing, if true:

Compared with college students of the late 1970s, current students are less likely to agree with statements such as "I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective," and "I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me."

At the same time, my BS flag went up at this part:

"Many people see the current group of college students — sometimes called 'Generation Me ' — as one of the most self-centered, narcissistic, competitive, confident and individualistic in recent history," said Konrath, who is also affiliated with the University of Rochester Department of Psychiatry.

Tell me what your study says, and I'll listen. I'm not really interested in your characterization of what "many people" think of today's kids (unless of course you're studying what older people think of young people).

At any rate, I like this study because it confirms what I already think - kids these days are poorly socialized and moreover they're less well socialized than kids in my day were. I love studies that tell me how uber smart I am.

Take the empathy quiz and tell me your score in the comments section. In return, I'll tell you whether I think you were properly socialized as a child or not :p And don't worry too much if you get a low score - that sort of thing is totally curable nowadays.

*rolling eyes*

Yes, I'm making fun of myself in case you wondered. The Blog Princess is more empathetic than 70% of the people who took the test. She can't help wondering, however, how much of a connection there is between raw empathy and the degree of empathy you exhibit in your every day decisions?

If I'd answered on feelings alone I suspect I would have scored even higher. I think your values come into play somewhere. Over the years as I learned that sympathy isn't always what's needed, I have definitely learned to take a step back from my instinctive reactions to people to some extent.

If I didn't, I'd spend the entire day emoting. So while I think I'm quite adept at "getting" the emotions of others, any empathy I feel ends up being tempered by past experience and my values. Anyway it's Friday, people.

I "feel" it's time for a cold beer. Bet you do, too.

Posted by Cassandra at May 28, 2010 04:16 PM

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Comments

Well I weepily emote more than 60% of the most self-centered, narcissistic, competitive, confident and individualistic generation in recent history. But then again, I have to. Those brats are my kids.

Posted by: spd rdr at May 28, 2010 05:04 PM

This is a very strange quiz: I scored "less empathetic than 80% of participants." (44/70)However, everybody who knows me and even people who do not like me will always tell you that the one thing I am not is unkind/non-empathetic (is this the word??)...

Posted by: olga at May 28, 2010 05:04 PM

Funny, my reaction was not that we're dealing with a narcissistic "Me Generation" but that there's hope for reversing the Nanny State train. Empathy can be overrated, particularly when people are tempted to assuage its pangs with other people's money.

Posted by: Texan99 at May 28, 2010 05:14 PM

Oh, and my BS meter went off the scale when I read that empathy levels just happened to drop after the dread events of 2000. Is there ANYTHING we won't blame on that man?

I score more empathetic than 80% of the human race, which is nonsense. My feelings are often touched, and I am consumed with the desire to be fair when I'm not losing my temper, but it doesn't seem to lead me to the results the authors obviously want. They'd have found out more about me if they'd included statements like, "After trying hard to be fair, I sometimes permanently lose patience with a whole class of sufferers who I've concluded are whining grievance-mongers that don't desire my sympathy or my attention," or "My tender feelings of empathy often don't conflict with my decision that a sink-or-swim approach is the best one, all things considered." In other words, man the F*** up.

Posted by: Texan99 at May 28, 2010 05:23 PM

"My feelings are often touched,..."

Hmmmm, everyone just tells me I'm *touched*. I have no idea why.....
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at May 28, 2010 05:48 PM

Well, I tried to click over to take the test but it just crashes the browser. Maybe that's a sign, I'm not supposed to take the test.

That could be good news or bad depending on your point of view.

Posted by: Allen at May 28, 2010 06:02 PM

spd, I *knew* you had feelings! :)

Seriously, I've always liked men to have a healthy capacity for empathy. Two of my favorite memories of my husband both involve times when it was clear what a kind heart he has beneath that gruff, taciturn exterior.

I score more empathetic than 80% of the human race, which is nonsense. My feelings are often touched, and I am consumed with the desire to be fair when I'm not losing my temper, but it doesn't seem to lead me to the results the authors obviously want. They'd have found out more about me if they'd included statements like, "After trying hard to be fair, I sometimes permanently lose patience with a whole class of sufferers who I've concluded are whining grievance-mongers that don't desire my sympathy or my attention," or "My tender feelings of empathy often don't conflict with my decision that a sink-or-swim approach is the best one, all things considered." In other words, man the F*** up.

You know, it is truly scary how often you type things that sound exactly what I am thinking.

I thought sure I'd get at least 80%. It was a weird test though.

Some of the questions were straightforward and I had no trouble saying (honestly) "Yeah, that bugs me and I feel for people like that". But there were several where I thought, "OK, my first reaction would be to feel bad for this person. But then my brain would kick in and I would begin to ask questions", or "Yeah I tend to feel sorry for people like that.... until they open their mouths and whine until I've lost all sympathy for them."

Posted by: Cassandra at May 28, 2010 06:06 PM

Well, I tried to click over to take the test but it just crashes the browser.

Hmmm... and did this make you feel sorry for the programmer?

*running away*

Posted by: Zigmund Freud at May 28, 2010 06:07 PM

I picked up a %94.3. Good test but then I teach the newbies the story of Kitty Genovese and the Insurance Company Liberty Mutual that runs the spot about helping others as in Pay it forward.

Posted by: vet66 at May 28, 2010 06:20 PM

I felt a great tugging to stow the power tools and suspend work for the day. Only when I came to the computer and read

"I "feel" it's time for a cold beer. Bet you do, too."
did I fully appreciate the empathetic ties that bind me to The Force of Beer-thirty.
"Is there ANYTHING we won't blame on that man?"
If there is, it's not been covered in the news for the past 16+ months.

Ahhhhhhh beeeerrrr....

Now what was the question?

Posted by: bthun at May 28, 2010 06:20 PM

I got a 50/70 using honest answers, even though I knew which way the questions were biased.

The better test of empathy is if you can do this.

I'm going to take the test again. This time I'll go for the lowest score, because I know which way the questions were designed to be intended by the test maker.

I got 14/70

That was 1/5 for every 14 questions.

That's real empathy. But it is a minor test, because you don't have to be a politician to know the bias behind each of those questions.

On this topic, I'll reproduce the same comment I wrote to Grim here on the subject awhile ago.

Empathy can be used for social cooperation. But I think the truth of the matter is that empathy is also very very useful for warfare and killing. Knowing the heart and mind of someone else, makes them very easy to kill. Or at least, easier than otherwise. In terms of assassination, treason, murder, or warfare, empathy is a very very nice tool in the box. Subtle, though. Very subtle. After all, a traitor is dangerous because he knows us better than the enemy does. He knows our weaknesses better than the enemy does. He is trusted by us, so he can do more damage using that trust. Empathy allows the traitor to project what I think he should feel. It allows him to pretend to have emotions based upon an analysis of the emotions of others.

I suppose the popular refrain is that empathy always leads to compassion, thus is an Ultimate Good. I don't think that's the case.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at May 28, 2010 06:23 PM

51 points, or "about where others scored." So, there you go: I'm perfectly normal.

Posted by: Grim at May 28, 2010 06:41 PM

Or average and stayed in the middle, rather than going to one of the extremes ; )

Posted by: Ymarsakar at May 28, 2010 06:52 PM

The other option is if you went extreme on the empathy plus questions and then went extreme on the empathy minus questions. That would tend to balance each other out and since they had more empathy questions than non-empathy questions.

By my count, 9 questions gave you plus empathy points if you answered strongly in the affirmative. Only 5 would give you 1/5 if you answered that it described you well.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at May 28, 2010 06:54 PM

49/70 70%

I'm just not feeling it with those questions... I think.

Or it may have something to do with what was in that iddy biddy glass in the bottom of my beer mug. Nahhhh..

TGIF

Posted by: bthun at May 28, 2010 06:56 PM

"My feelings are often touched,..."

Hmmmm, everyone just tells me I'm *touched*

. I have no idea why.....
0>;~}

Posted by: DL Sly at May 28, 2010 05:48 PM"

*While still free from the white jacket with the endless sleeve, the hun raises his mug in the direction of DLSly*

SALUTE!

Posted by: bthun at May 28, 2010 07:03 PM

I find some misfortune almost impossible to witness, but it often causes me to avoid situations where I'll have to witness it, rather than stirring me to help. So the test scores that as empathy, but it's a useless kind of empathy as far as the suffering creatures go. I read a story once about a telepathic young woman who was made physically ill by the psychic suffering of those around her. An unscrupulous young man effectively enslaved her by exploiting her inability to bear his feelings upon contemplating losing her. One day she knocked him out; when he woke up she was gone, having left a note that read, "I don't care what happens to you. My range is only 100 yards."

Posted by: Texan99 at May 28, 2010 08:19 PM

I got 81.4%...so it can't be an accurate test. ;-)

Posted by: camojack at May 28, 2010 08:35 PM

How I would REALLY answer wasn't an option on pretty much all those questions... That being said, I got 52/70. Since that's between the average of 51/70 and the higher than 60% of 53/70, maybe that means I'm more empathetic than 55% person of participants?

Posted by: Miss Ladybug at May 28, 2010 08:46 PM

I didn't take the test at first, because after reading the questions, I knew what it would tell me I was....I was right.
Not necessarily a *bad* thing, IMNSHO.
0>;~}

*tip o'the hat, and beer, to the hun and assembled Villainry*

Posted by: DL Sly at May 28, 2010 09:16 PM

I scored the same as the Blog Princess, which I take to mean that I outscored all the guys, but the women, not so much. I am a woman that has frequently been told that I think like a man, or have cojones. ;-)

This test set my crap detector buzzing because it is a totally subjective assessment of a person's internal reactions to various situations, that does not provide any assessment of whether those reactions are in any way "in tune" with the feelings of others.

To me, empathy is is the capability to share another being's emotions and feelings. Recognizing the value of doing so, and trying to do so, is not the same thing as succeeding.

A case in point is .... me. I believe in fairness. I try to avoid injustice. And i know from repeated experience that I have no idea what another person's reaction to a situation will be. I am frequently surprised to find that other people react differently from the way I do. And if I ask them, I find that their reaction makes sense from their point of view. But, I don't "get it" unless somebody else tells me first. I cannot predict another's response well at all.

I might value empathy, but I don't have it.

Posted by: valerie at May 29, 2010 01:07 AM

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sympathy

Look at the note on synonyms. It sounds to me like the test was for some combination of sympathy/compassion but not empathy.

Out of those three, I think I would score highest in empathy, 2nd in sympathy, and 3rd in compassion.

But when I was in college, the order would have been sympathy, compassion, empathy.

Why, oh why are we using college kids as the "normal" on our social barometer? (I know... they are in the same place the researchers are, but that's a really lousy reason.)

Posted by: Donna B. at May 29, 2010 02:27 AM

Ymar sez "Empathy can be used for social cooperation. But I think the truth of the matter is that empathy is also very very useful for warfare and killing"..you don't even need to go to the extreme of warfare: an empathetic but sleazy salesman can use empathy..his understanding of the prospect's emotions..to sell a worthless product or service. Or a Mean Girl can use her understanding of her victim's emotions to hurt the target as much as possible.

I think it's important to distinguish between understanding of the feelings of another, and truly sharing in & valuing those feelings. Not sure the test does that. Also, the wording of some of the questions may select for political liberalism: ie, "people less fortunate than me" probably suggests "the poor," economically speaking, rather than people who have suffered other kinds of bad things.

Posted by: david foster at May 29, 2010 09:10 AM

Donna and Valerie make me realize that what I've got is something more like sympathy or compassion than empathy. I suspect I assume that all people will react the way I would in their situation; like Valerie, I have to have it spelled out to me if their reaction is different. Maybe what I'm feeling, more than anything else, is dread of the same thing happening to me. People who are miserable in a situation that wouldn't trouble me very much don't easily arouse my compassion.

Posted by: Texan99 at May 29, 2010 12:40 PM

Why, oh why are we using college kids as the "normal" on our social barometer?
Spooky, ain't it?
Donna and Valerie make me realize that what I've got is something more like sympathy or compassion than empathy.
In a nutshell, that is a spot on description of my little green acre.

I will admit to having a sympathetic and compassionate gene or two poking and prodding my conscience from time to time. But empathy, at least for me, is a more elusive sort of animal. Even if I were to think I can understand what or how another feels in any particular situation, it's most likely the little guy in my head sounding the alarm of

dread of the same thing happening to me
That being the case, I try to help those deserving --subjective appraisal-- in ways that I can, when I can. The old there but for the grace of G-D, go I prod.

Posted by: bthun at May 29, 2010 01:24 PM

I am very cautious around people who say they are empathetic - "I feel sorry for..." usually is followed by "Give me lots of your money to fix other people's problems..."
I didn't score very high.

Posted by: Oh Hell at May 29, 2010 02:42 PM

46 of 70.

My way, or the highway, Baby. Frequently, but not always.

Eric Hines

Posted by: E Hines at May 29, 2010 03:53 PM

36 of 70. Frankly, I thought it would be lower than that. Having a manipulative, self-destructive alcoholic for a mother encouraged me to develop a pretty good set of emotional barriers fairly early in life.

Posted by: colagirl at May 29, 2010 04:06 PM

Man, there's nothing like attachment to a self-destructive person to make you sort some stuff out.

Posted by: Texan99 at May 29, 2010 10:30 PM

42/70 : 60%

Posted by: Rex at May 30, 2010 11:18 PM

"kids these days are poorly socialized and moreover they're less well socialized than kids in my day were."


I tend to agree. They may seem more narcissistic, but that is just a symptom of poor socialization.

Ultimately, this goes back to the parents, whether they were "involved" or not.

Posted by: lordsomber at June 1, 2010 05:13 PM

Oh, and my score was 49/70.

Posted by: lordsomber at June 1, 2010 05:14 PM

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