Sunday, May 30, 2010

Are Kids REALLY less Empathetic today?

The big health news this morning (at least according to Google) is that college kids today lack empathy. The linked article is pretty much the normal rant about video games and facebook.  At the end, they have a link to the survey used to measure empathy. 

After taking the survey (I came out as above average, btw, so I clearly feel your pain!) I realized that there were a few big problems with the methodology.

 This survey doesn't matter how empathetic you are.  It measures how empathetic you THINK you are compared to the people around you.  If you live in a culture where everyone, even presidents, are expected to tear up and show they care, you'll see yourself as less empathetic.

 A number of the questions aren't really about EMPATHY at all.  They're about how to argue and defend your ideas.  For instance, there are questions about trying to understand an opponents viewpoint, or about listening to all sides of a question. 

Of course our youth score poorly on these marks-- they're taught from Kindergarten to accept the standard position on issues and to refrain from questioning at all costs.  They've seen what happens if you try to understand the other side and test their arguments-- look at that law student from Harvard!

If are kids are less 'empathetic' it's because we've taught them to dampen their sense of justice, to ignore faulty arguments, and to equate crocodile tears with caring.

The cure to Solipsism is more Socrates.  If they learn to question, think and judge, they'll be more able to understand where the other guy is coming from.  As it is, our nation has taught them that political heterodoxy results from an evil heart.  If you don't empathize with your enemies, it's easier to dismiss their arguments as pure malice.


logician said...

I would be willing to bet kids today have as much empathy as ever. They just don't empathize with the people and causes we think they should, because teenagers are still on basic survival instinct (defend your own -- although they don't have the greatest sense of who their own are) and see nonsense in the world (much of which they identify correctly, however poor their end reaction is) as oppressive.

On an unrelated note, I wanted to ask (not being sure if you saw the other time I did) whether you still have the info needed to find that article you mentioned on LARC about Jansenist influence relocated through refuge in Ireland? (Or its sources, since I'm interested ultimately in seeing if it lends insight into history.)

Deirdre Mundy said...

Logician-- I originally saw the article several years ago-- and when I googled to look for it, all the recent articles seemed to suggest it was an over-simplification or an outright fabrication! (couldn't find the original)

Sorry! I'll keep looking, though!

logician said...

Thanks. 8^)