Are we turning into a society of jerks? Research indicates that we are becoming less empathetic. For example, U.S. college students have demonstrated a 75% drop in empathy in just over 30 years. This is according to research based on the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI), an empathy survey which has been administered to tens of thousands of American college students since 1979. The research, which was led by Sara H.
Konrath and published in Personality and Social Psychology Review in 2011, found a particularly steep drop after the year 2000.
The IRI survey — which includes questions like “I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me” — so obviously measures empathy that it would be easy to guess the “right answer” and game the results to make yourself look kinder. It may be less a measure of empathy than of how much empathy is valued: the fact that college students no longer seem to want to be perceived as nice is perhaps even more telling than their low empathy scores.