Friday, November 26, 2010

Study shows today's college students are less empathetic than past generations but they can be taught to change.

A recent study reported on by Inside Higher Education found that today's college students are 40% less empathetic than previous generations of students.  However, empathy experts say that sensitivity towards others can be learned.  Why should lawyers, law professors and students care?  Because the ability to intellectually and emotionally empathize with one's client as well her opponent are essential skills needed to produce a good result for that client.  As IHE reports:

Are you often quite touched by things you see happen? Do you try to look at everybody’s side of a disagreement before you make a decision? When you see people being taken advantage of, do you feel protective of them?

If you are a college student or recent graduate, you are more likely to answer 'no' to the above questions, which are excerpts from a University of Michigan test designed to measure the presence of empathy in people of different ages. What they found was disconcerting: College students today are 40 percent less empathetic than those who graduated two or three decades ago.

Can empathy be learned?

The general consensus among empathy scholars is . . . yes – but only under specific circumstances.

For instance, it is unrealistic to expect students to become more empathetic if they aren’t actually committed to the idea. In other words, they have to have the desire to change, said Sara H. Konrath, the adjunct assistant professor of psychology who led the Michigan study on college students’ empathy. 'It’s probably possible in the context of what they’re doing,' she said. 'If people are willing to do that and to try, then I think there are ways to change empathy.'

You can read the rest here.


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