Many of us in our younger years would laugh when we heard an ” old-timer” say: In my day, people cared about each other and we had each other’s back. When we needed a cup of sugar, we could just run over to the neighbors and borrow one.
Today, most of us wouldn’t even think about running next door to our neighbor to borrow an egg or a cup of sugar – we’d run to the store instead. Why? It’s probably because there are so many people who do not wish to know their neighbor, let alone offer any goodwill toward them.
According to a 2010 study published in the Scientific American, empathy levels between college students have declined over the past thirty years and the last ten years had shown the greatest decline.
Some would say it is the “hardening” of society that has perpetuated the lack of empathy. Movie ratings that were once rated X (for example The Midnight Cowboy) are now being re-rated at a lower acceptable rating.
This is called Ratings Creep and according to a Harvard School of Public Health study, it is an actual real occurrence and not just a perception.
The Digital Age
Some people would suggest people are communicating less in person and more with digital devices – leaving everyone disconnected when connected. It has become commonplace for people to look at their cellphones more than each other at the dinner table. Texting has become an easier solution instead of confronting the harder subjects face to face.
We can not empathize with a text message that does not have the nuances of body language. We can not hope to feel anything holding a cold piece of hardware, instead of giving a person a hug.
Where Are We Heading?
The more we isolate ourselves from face to face communication, the more isolated we will become. In a study conducted by a psychologist at York University, people are reading less than ever. More importantly, preschoolers are being read to less often, which was once a staple for children to learn critical concepts – including empathy.
Empathy researcher Sara Konrath from the University of Michigan seems to think if empathy is changed by the way the way people make life choices, then we may not be doomed as a whole because people can change the way they live.
Other researchers, such as Kevin Ochsner and his colleagues at Columbia University and Mount Sinia Medical Center believe people can be trained to become more empathetic. Although in the early stages, they believe they can help people socially function better.
Enhancing Family Life Now for a Bigger Payout Later
With many people engaged in device overload, doctors and other professionals are suggesting people take an internet-free vacation. It is recommended that families have a “black-out” of all devices and get back to the basics: eating at the diner table and talking with each other, playing board games, or initiating in other activities that lead to deeper relationships. Deeper relationships tend to build stronger bonds and empathy.
It won’t come overnight and participating in a black-out may only be possible for a set few hours at first. When doing so becomes comfortable, an entire night may be the next step and so forth.
The choice is yours.
To see the full abstracts on the empathy studies mentioned, check out:
A plethora of other neuroscience resources can also be found at Columbia University’s Resource page.