So are we witnessing the rise of a sub-psychopathic minority for whom society doesn’t exist? A new breed of individual with little or no conception of social norms, no respect for the feelings of others, and scant regard for the consequences of their actions? Might Pinkler be right about those subtle fluctuations in modern personality structure—and a nefarious nudge to the dark side? If the results of a recent study by Sara Konrath and her team at the University of MIchigan’s Institute for Social Research are anything to go by, then the answer to the questions is yes.
In a survey that has so far tested fourteen thousand volunteers, Konrath has found that college students’ self-reported empathy levels (as measured by the Interpersonal Reactivity Index) have actually been in steady decline over the previous three decades—since the inauguration of the scale, in fact, back in 1979—and that a particular pronounced slump has, it turns out, been observed over the past ten years.
“College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of twenty or thirty years ago,” Konrath reports.
More worrying still, according to Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, is that, during this same period, students’ self-reported narcissism levels have, in contrast, gone in the other direction. They’ve shot through the roof.
“Many people see the current group of college students, sometimes called ‘Generation Me,'” Konrath continues, “as one of the most self-centered, narcissistic, competitive, confident and individualistic in recent history.”
The Wisdom of Psychopaths
Kevin Dutton 2012