Less Empathetic

There are a number of factors that are influencing and leading to the decline in empathy levels found in college students. These factors include:

  • The amount and content of media consumed by individuals since 20006
    • In 2015, Amercians spend ~724 minutes per day with major media: an increase of ~10.8% from 20107.
    • 86.75% of Americans are connected to the internet8, with 24% of teenagers being online ‘almost constantly’ and 92% going online daily9.
    • 62% of Americans are smartphone users, allowing for at the ready internet and social media access9.
    • Social networking has increased by 82% from 20093.
    • The average total amount of information that people receive outside of work has increased by 350% over the past 30 years3.
  • The amount and content of video games used by individuals
    • In 2013, Americans above the age of 12 play 6.3 hours of video games per week; an increase of ~11% from 2012 and an increase of ~19% from 201110.
    • In 2013, 50% of gamers play on a mobile device; an increase of 4% from 2012 and an increase of 15% from 201110.
    • Recent published research has suggested that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive behaviour, increased aggressive thinking, decreased empathy and decreased prosocial behaviour11. This link between violent video games and increased aggression and aggressive thinking has also been reported12,13,14
    • However, conflicting reports suggest that this link is either not strong or existent for a majority of people as there has been a decrease in violent crimes over the past 10 years while the use and sales of videogames has steadily increased15<.
  • The change in parental style and family structure
    • With college aged students becoming less empathic, they are also more self focused and narcissistic3. These students are then becoming parents and raising children that are then also less empathic; and may become more so given other external factors such as increased media content, increased isolation, increased violent content in media and video games, increased pressure for success.
    • The prosocial response of toddlers was directly related to the empathy expressed of their parents16.
    • The reduction in the number of children per family is also believed to have an influence leading to the decrease in empathy17.
  • The amount of time we have available
    • People have an increased drive to succeed, resulting in people having less time and compassion for others.
    • Children’s lives are now becoming more structured and have less “free play” time to learn to empathise and associate with other children voluntarily2.

Following this study, the researchers believe that there is an Empathy Paradox – “That as we become more interdependent globally, we become less interdependent individually”4.

There are also a number of negative consequences of having decreasing empathy levels, including people becoming:

  • More self concerned3
  • More competitive3
  • More outgoing & individualistic3
  • Increasingly verbally aggressive and boastful4
  • Increasingly tolerant for things not previously tolerated4
  • Increasingly narcissistic4
  • More antisocial3
  • More likely to have a utilitarian response to moral situations and “favor harmful actions that maximise aggregate welfare”18


  1. Merrian Webster Dictionary. 2015. “Empathy”. Viewed 3/3/2016. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/empathy
  2. Gray, P. 2014. Why is Narcissism Increasing Among Young Americans?. Viewed 3/3/2016. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201401/why-is-narcissism-increasing-among-young-americans
  3. Konrath, S. H., O’Brien, E. H., Hsing, C., 2011, “Changes in Dispositional Empathy in American College Students Over Time: A Meta Analysis”, Pers Soc Psychol Rev 2011 15:180, DOI: 10.1177/1088868310377395 http://www.ipearlab.org/media/publications/Changes_in_Dispositional_Empathy_-_Sara_Konrath.pdf
  4. Konrath, S. 2013. Chapter 12 The Empathy Paradox: Increasing Disconnection in the Age of Increasing Connection”. Viewed 3/3/2016. http://www.ipearlab.org/media/publications/Konrath_2013_empathy_paradox.pdf
  5. Twenge, J. Carter, N. Campbell, W. K. 2015. Changes in Tolerance Time Period, Generational, and Age Differences in Tolerance for Controversial Beliefs and Lifestyles in the United States, 1972–2012. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/journal/1534-7605_Social_Forces (Impact Factor: 1.29).  03/2015; 94(1). DOI: 10.1093/sf/sov050
  6. Konrath, S. 2014 in press. Can text messages make people kinder? In, Miller, C. Fleeson, W. & Furr, M. (Eds) New Perspectives on Character, Oxford University Press
  7. Statista, 2015. Average time spent with major media per day in the United States as of October 2015 (in minutes). http://www.statista.com/statistics/276683/media-use-in-the-us/
  8. InternetLiveStats. 2016. Internet Users. Viewed 3/3/2016. http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/
  9. Pew Research Centre, 2015. Mobile Messaging and Social Media 2015. Viewed 3/3/2016. http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/08/19/mobile-messaging-and-social-media-2015/
  10. Nielsen. 2014. Multi-Platform Gaming: For The Win!. Viewed 3/3/2016. http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2014/multi-platform-gaming-for-the-win.html
  11. Anderson, C. Shibuya, A. Ihoir, N. Swing, E. Bushman, B. Sakamoto, A. Rothstein, H. Saleem, M. 2010. Violent Video Game Effects on Aggression, Empathy, and Prosocial Behavior in Eastern and Western Countries: A Meta-Analytic Review. Psychological Bulletin. Vol. 136. No. 2. Pg. 151 – 173. https://public.psych.iastate.edu/caa/abstracts/2010-2014/10asisbsrs.pdf
  12. Happ, C. Melzer, A. Steffgen, G. 2011. Bringing Empathy into Play: On the Effects of Empathy in Violent and Nonviolent Video Games. Entertainment Computing – ICEC 2011 – 10th International Conference, ICEC 2011, Vancouver, Canada, October 5-8, 2011 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/220851607_Bringing_Empathy_into_Play_On_the_Effects_of_Empathy_in_Violent_and_Nonviolent_Video_Games
  13. Dittrick, C. Beran, T. Mishna, F. Hetherington, R. Sharriff, S. 2013. Do Children Who Bully Their Peers Also Play Violent Video Games? A Canadian National Study. Journal of School Violence. Vol. 12. No. 4. Pg. 297 – 318. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15388220.2013.803244?journalCode=wjsv20
  14. Melzer, A. Happ, C. Steffgen, G. 2010. Violence for the masses: The impact of violence in entertainment media. In book: Transnational Criminology Manual (Volume 1), Chapter: 5.1, Publisher: Wolf Legal Publishers (WLP), pp.701-717. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232722584_Violence_for_the_masses_The_impact_of_violence_in_entertainment_media
  15. Fournis, G. Abou, N. 2014. Violence, Crime, and Violent Video Games: Is There a Correlation?. Psychiatric Times. Viewed 3/3/2016. http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/cultural-psychiatry/violence-crime-and-violent-video-games-there-correlation
  16. Suttie, J. 2015. How Parents Influence Early Moral Development. Viewed 3/3/2016. http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_parents_influence_early_moral_development
  17. Tucker, C. Updegraff, K. Mchale, S. Crouter, A. 1999. Older Siblings as Socializers of Younger Siblings’ Empathy. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/journal/0272-4316_The_Journal_of_Early_Adolescence. 19(2):176-198. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/247763980_Older_Siblings_as_Socializers_of_Younger_Siblings%27_Empathy
  18. Gleichgerrcht E, Young L (2013) Low Levels of Empathic Concern Predict Utilitarian Moral Judgment. PLoS ONE 8(4): e60418. doi:10.1371/ journal.pone.0060418 http://moralitylab.bc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/GleichgerrchtYoungPLOSONE.pdf