Empathy on the DeclineBy Na'amah Razon, Jason Marsh | January 28, 2011 | 6 comments
Summaries of new research on the decline of empathy in America, the power of the mind to trump the senses, and yoga's ability to improve the quality of life of breast cancer patients.
* This Greater Good section, Research Digests, offers short summaries of recent studies on happiness, empathy, compassion, and more. Quick to read, easy to digest—we review the research so you don’t have to! Subscribe to the Research Digests RSS feed to receive future digests.
Is Empathy on the Decline?
"Changes in Dispositional Empathy in American College Students Over Time: A Meta-Analysis"
Konrath, S.H., O'Brien, E.H., Hsing, C. Personality and Social Psychology Review, August 2010, Advance online publication.
In his Tucson memorial speech, President Obama called on us to “sharpen our instincts for empathy.” This study suggests young adults may have a lot of work to do: It finds that empathy is declining sharply among college students today. The authors examined the responses of nearly 14,000 students who had completed a questionnaire measuring different types of empathy. The results show that the average level of “empathic concern,” meaning people’s feelings of sympathy for the misfortunes of others, declined by 48 percent between 1979 and 2009; the average level of “perspective taking,” people’s tendencies to imagine others’ points of view, declined by 34 percent over the same period. There was a particularly steep decline between 2000 and 2009.
While the study didn’t examine why empathy may be declining, the authors draw on prior research to speculate that culprits could include the corresponding rise in narcissism among young people, the growing prevalence of personal technology and media use in everyday life, shrinking family size (dealing with siblings may teach empathy), and stronger pressures on young people to succeed academically and professionally. —Jason Marsh
We See What We Believe
"Believing Is Seeing: Using Mindlessness (Mindfully) to Improve Visual Acuity. "
Langer, E., et. al. Psychological Science. Vol. 21 (5), May 2010, 661-666.
Want to see better? The key may lie in your mind, not your eyes: This study suggests that psychological beliefs can improve vision. In a collaborative study between four universities, researchers found that participants’ mindsets could actually make them see better. For instance, after they were told that athletes see better than non-athletes, participants who did jumping jacks performed better on an eyesight test than people who did another activity. The authors conclude that their study supports “the ubiquitous nature of the ability to overcome physical limits with psychological means.” —Na’amah Razon
Can Yoga Improve Quality of Life During Cancer Treatment?
"Effects of Yoga on the Quality of Life in Cancer Patients"
Ulger, Ozlem; Yağli, Naciye Vardar. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. Vol. 16(2), May 2010, 60-63.
How can levels of anxiety and stress be reduced in breast cancer patients? Yoga might be an answer. A group of Turkish researchers have demonstrated that providing women who are undergoing breast cancer treatment with yoga classes can improve their quality of life and reduce stress. Twenty women undergoing breast cancer treatment participated in the study, which provided participants with basic yoga skills and classes. Compared to their assessments of their lives before the classes, participants reported higher quality of life after the yoga training, as well as reduced levels of anxiety. —Na’amah Razon