Social media shown to diminish empathy

By Hayley Devitt

Empathy is the ability to identify with another person’s emotions and point of view, but according to an article on Scientific American’s website, college students seem to be really lacking it these days.

Citing social networking websites like Facebook and Flickr as the culprit behind what’s being called “Generation Me,” researchers are finding a dramatic decline of empathy in correlation with the advent of these internet sensations.

To be exact, a study revealed that college students have become 40 percent less empathetic than students from 30 years ago, with the sharpest decrease in the nine years before the study was drawn.

How can science determine this, you might ask?

In 2009, 14,000 students were surveyed with statements like, “I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective,” and were asked whether they felt tenderness or concern for people less fortunate than they.

At first, I didn’t think I personally could disagree with these statements, but I thought more about my peers and about how differently kids can be raised. How many of your parents ever told you, “it’s not your problem”? Reactions are taught and children can be desensitized, but why in this generation more so than 30 years ago?

The article also chalks up the newfound selfishness to the demand for competitiveness, and I agree, though not for the same reasons.

Researcher Ed O’Brien believes students today are too busy working hard for their grades to have much “real life interaction.” However, I think that with the economy being as bad as it is, young people are now taught to be pretty cutthroat when it comes to paving the way for life after college; that is, when getting jobs.

I can also see how the blame would fall on social media. What was meant to bring people more in sync with each other could actually be ruining Internet users’ ability to relate to their fellow humans in a real way.

The same goes for texting. Both the attraction and detriment in online messaging or sending a text is the reaction time allowed. With cell phones and email, kids and adults alike are given the chance to really think about their responses.

In some cases, that can eliminate the blurting out of hurtful or embarrassing things. On the other hand, getting overly accustomed to this style of communication can only weaken conversation skills when they finally are applied in a one-on-one setting.

Unfortunately, the reverse to this exists as well, and that is where the lack of empathy becomes apparent.

I think young people oftentimes somehow forget it’s a live person they are talking to when sending scathing remarks they’d probably never utter out loud. Once the other person is out of sight, the impulse to arbitrarily speak one’s mind seems to unlock its door.

Then again, we’ve all seen too many posts urging friends to “Like and share if you care about the abused animals and starving children of the world” to think empathy is completely wiped out.