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The Culture of Narcissism

Interesting recent article in the New York Times.   Any study that tries to quantify empathy needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but you can take this particular survey yourself – and if you do, you’ll probably find its empathy-measuring questions credible enough to be at least d…
By Seth Barnes

Interesting recent article in the New York Times.
 
Any study that tries to quantify empathy needs to be taken with a
grain of salt, but you
can take this particular survey
yourself – and if you do, you’ll
probably find its empathy-measuring questions credible enough to be at
least disquieted by these
findings
:

Today’s college students are not as empathetic as college
students of the 1980s and ’90s, a University of Michigan study shows.

The study, presented in Boston at the annual meeting of the
Association for Psychological Science, analyzes data on empathy among
almost 14,000 college students over the last 30 years.

“We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000,” said Sara
Konrath, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research.
“College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their
counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago, as measured by standard tests of
this personality trait.”

The fact that the tipping point seems to coincide with the rise of
the internet should send everyone rushing off to read Christine Rosen’s
2007 essay on social networking, “Virtual
Friendship and the New Narcissism,”
which could have been written
with just these findings in mind. But it’s also interesting to consider
this trend in light of the oft-heard claim that the millennial
generation is more
idealistic, more civic-minded, and more engaged with the world
than
its cynical Gen X predecessors.

On the face of it, these seem like contradictory portraits – how can
the same generation be more solipsistic and more interested in
human betterment and ambitious social activism? But maybe they actually
go hand in hand. There’s a kind of
humanitarianism that’s more interested in an abstract “humanity” than in
actual people, and a kind of idealism that’s hard to distinguish from
moral vanity.

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