College students of the 1980s and '90s were more empathetic than present day counterparts, a new study claims.
A University of Michigan study saw an analysis of data on empathy among almost 14,000 college students over the last 30 years.
Sara Konrath, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research, said: "We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000. College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago, as measured by standard tests of this personality trait."
Konrath conducted the meta-analysis, combining the results of 72 different studies of American college students conducted between 1979 and 2009, with U-M graduate student Edward O'Brien and undergraduate student Courtney Hsing.
Compared to college students of the late 1970s, the study found, college students today are less likely to agree with statements such as "I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective" and "I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me."
In a related but separate analysis, Konrath found that nationally representative samples of Americans see changes in other people's kindness and helpfulness over a similar time period.
"Many people see the current group of college students---sometimes called 'Generation Me'---as one of the most self-centered, narcissistic, competitive, confident and individualistic in recent history," said Konrath, who is also affiliated with the University of Rochester Department of Psychiatry.
"It's not surprising that this growing emphasis on the self is accompanied by a corresponding devaluation of others," O'Brien said.
The study was presented in Boston at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science.