Changes in Dispositional Empathy in American College Students Over Time: A Meta-Analysis

University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 48104, USA.
Personality and Social Psychology Review (Impact Factor: 7.55). 05/2011; 15(2):180-98. DOI: 10.1177/1088868310377395
Source: PubMed


The current study examines changes over time in a commonly used measure of dispositional empathy. A cross-temporal meta-analysis was conducted on 72 samples of American college students who completed at least one of the four subscales (Empathic Concern, Perspective Taking, Fantasy, and Personal Distress) of the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI) between 1979 and 2009 (total N = 13,737). Overall, the authors found changes in the most prototypically empathic subscales of the IRI: Empathic Concern was most sharply dropping, followed by Perspective Taking. The IRI Fantasy and Personal Distress subscales exhibited no changes over time. Additional analyses found that the declines in Perspective Taking and Empathic Concern are relatively recent phenomena and are most pronounced in samples from after 2000.

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    • "Empathy is clearly a useful skill for understanding complexity in human and societal issues. Yet it is also a skill in decline, as we have noted based on recent research (Konrath et al., 2011). This great need for empathetic thinking , paired with the realization that it is in troublingly short supply, makes it a crucial challenge for education to undertake. "

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    • "First, at the East–West study level, we examined potential moderating sample effects—specifically , gender and age distribution, year of data collection, and sample size— on the omnibus analysis. In estimating year of data collection, based on prior work, we used the value of two years prior to publication for article in which precise year was not known (Konrath et al., 2011; Lee & Pratto, 2011; Twenge et al., 2008). Some effect sizes were based on multiple papers published in different years (Cuddy et al., 2009 and Fiske et al., 2002; Lin & 3 Among these three articles, two report greater negative attitudes in the East than in the West (Harwood et al., 1994; Sharps et al., 1998) and the other (Chappell, 2003) reports mixed evidence. "
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    • "Similarly, social psychologists working in the U.S. have detected increases in self-esteem (Twenge and Campbell, 2001) and decreases in conformity (Perrin and Spencer, 1981; Bond and Smith, 1996), need for social approval (Twenge and Im, 2007) and trust (Putnam, 1995; Robinson and Jackson, 2001) over the last half century. Over the same relatively short period, clinical psychologists have observed reliable increases in depression and other psychopathologies (Twenge et al., 2010) and decreased empathy and perspective taking (Konrath et al., 2011). In short, data from standardized intelligence tests, personality measures, and laboratory experiments suggest that Americans are changing on some major psychological variables. "

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