I know it's shocking and unexpected, but the evidence—both data-driven and anecdotal—indicates that people increasingly care less about others and more about themselves.
In fact, in a survey that has so far tested 14,000 volunteers, Sara Konrath and her team at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research has found that college students' self-reported empathy levels (as measured by the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, a standardized questionnaire containing such items as "I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me" and "I try to look at everybody's side of a disagreement before I make a decision") have been in steady decline over the past three decades—since the inauguration of the scale, in fact, back in 1979. A particularly pronounced slump has been observed over the past 10 years. "College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago," Konrath reports.
More worrisome still, according to Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, is that, during this same period, students' self-reported narcissism levels have shot through the roof. "Many people see the current group of college students, sometimes called 'Generation Me,' " Konrath continues, "as one of the most self-centered, narcissistic, competitive, confident, and individualistic in recent history."
That is from Kevin Dutton's article, "Psychopathy's Double Edge" (ht: C.F.), published in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Dutton writes, "Precisely why this downturn in social values has come about is not
entirely clear. A complex concatenation of environment, role models, and
education is, as usual, under suspicion." He then goes on to point to new studies of the brain, neural pathways, and such. Interesting. And I'm quite sympathetic to the argument that new technologies, the drop in literacy levels, and social upheaval are major factors in the demise of empathy and the steady growth of "self-centered, narcissistic, competitive, confident, and individualistic" attitudes and behaviors.
But, in the end, it won't suffice.