Category: connection

Let’s Recognise The Huge Decline In Teenage Pregnancy, And Try To Understand What’s Driven It:

But there are also lessons for us within our research, which strongly suggests that while we may worry about social media encouraging certain sexual behaviours, the picture is much more complex than we perhaps imagine, and indeed the amount of time spent on social media as opposed to face-to-face interaction is itself a factor in the fall in teenage pregnancy.

We also need to understand issues from the perspectives of teenagers themselves.

Take sexting for example – widely held to be negative and problematic.  Without a doubt, it can be – and 40% of those we surveyed felt it could damage young people’s wellbeing or relationships. However 44% also felt it could be part of a healthy sex life – and interestingly, some saw it a substitute and not just a precursor to sex itself. As such it is of course, unlikely to result in a pregnancy.

“It’s a good way of interacting with your partner without having sex,” said one young woman from our focus group.

“I think sexting doesn’t lead to sex as often as you’d think. People see it as something different, more of a gift than a  mutual experience,” added a young man.

Digital Human: Series 17, Episode 1 – Numb

The End of Empathy?:

Recently Fox News covered our study on declining empathy in American college students with this alarming title: “The End of Empathy.”

Is this true? Are we now living in a society entirely devoid of the basic glue of human connection and interaction?

In order to form an educated opinion, you’ll need some background about the study. To summarize briefly, we collected empathy scores from 72 academic sources from 1979 to 2009. In all of these sources, empathy was measured using a standard scale called the Davis Interpersonal Reactivity Index. People who score high on this “empathy test” give freely of their time and money and frequently help others in need. You can try the test and see how you score compared to the 13,737 students in our sample by clicking here. We ran a statistical analysis to see whether there were changes over time in empathy and found that there had been overall declines, especially since the year 2000.

I never imagined that we would end up being able to share good newsabout empathy when we presented our research at the Association for Psychological Science Annual Convention in May.

The good news is that empathy is not “destroyed” or “under siege,” as the author of the Fox News post suggests. Instead, empathy may be sick. Not “you have 6 months to live” sick, more like “you need to spend a few days in bed” sick. In other words, although there has been a decline in empathy, there are a few key things to consider about the data before declaring a state of emergency on the moral health of the nation.

Why this is not a total crisis:

1. Empathy is measured on a 1 to 5 scale, with higher numbers meaning that people are high in empathy. The good news is that despite the declines in empathy, the average empathy score in 2009 is still just above the midpoint of the scale (i.e. just above 3). So, there is no need to plan empathy’s funeral quite yet.

2. On that note, there are a wide variety of empathy scores represented within the college student annual average. About half of these scores are higher than the average, and about half of them are lower than the average. In order words, just because empathy is declining on average, does not mean that each individual is low in empathy. To accuse an entire generation of low empathy is not very kind, nor is it accurate.

3. American college students are not the most prototypical Americans. They are richer, whiter, more female, and in our sample at least, about 20 years old on average. So as long as you can avoid college towns, you should be fine. And until future research proves otherwise, I wouldn’t suggest joining the empathy militia.

4. Violent criminal acts such as murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault have all shown steady, marked decreases from the early 1990s to the late 2000s. This is the opposite of what we would expect if empathy was ‘under siege.’

Why I am still concerned:

1. This is not the first study to find trends related to declining empathy in American college students. In my dissertation work we also found increases in the personality trait narcissism over time. The fact that there has been other research with similar trends is notable.

2. It’s true that the average empathy score still hovers above the midpoint of the scale, but empathy is still declining substantially, and at a faster rate in more recent years. If recent trends continue, this could eventually translate into broader societal problems. I’m most concerned that current declines in empathy could lead to negative reciprocal spirals as people feed off of each other’s low empathy.

3. Right now our evidence is limited to American college students, but future work will look at broader trends in narcissism and empathy in American society at large. We’re also interested in cross-cultural changes. Stay tuned…

4. Although violent crime in general has declined, certain types of violent crimes have actually risen over time: i) acts of violence against the homeless have shown dramatic increases, especially over the past ten years, and were recently estimated to be at an all time high; ii) hate crimes against Hispanics and perceived immigrants, as well as against lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgender individuals are all significantly increasing; and iii) hit-and-run car accidents have increased by about 20% since 1998. Each of these specific types of crime target stigmatized, marginalized, or otherwise defenseless groups.

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What do you think?

Is the decline in empathy we recently found something to worry about it? Have you noticed this in your life? Why do think empathy has declined in the past 30 years?

Digital Human: Series 17, Episode 1 – Numb

‘Phubbing’ can threaten our basic human needs – University of Kent:

Ignoring someone you’re with in a social setting to concentrate on your mobile phone – called ‘phubbing’ – can have a negative effect on relationships by threatening our basic human need to belong.

Digital Human: Series 17, Episode 1 – Numb

Former Homeless Woman Becomes Twitter Celebrity:

Alone and homeless on the streets of Chicago, AnnMarie Walsh found comfort in Twitter.

“It feels so good to know there is someone out there,” she said. “I could Tweet and there was always someone there listening.”

Walsh was homeless for six years before she met a case worker at a Tweetupevent who helped her find temporary housing. Her Twitter profile says she’s been off the streets since April 7, 2011.

Walsh uses the Twitter handle @PadsChicago. The 41-year-old tweets to her more than 4,800 followers about what it was like to be homeless and also advocates for homeless people. When she was homeless, Walsh would tweet from her cell phone or use computers at her local library.

She has slowly amassed more followers as her story of documenting her homelessness on Twitter has gained traction with the media.

She joined Twitter more than two years ago. Initially, she said, Twitter appealed to her because she thought it could help her deal with mental health issues by making her more comfortable talking to people, at least in a digital sense.

“It has really helped me come out and be better functioning in social settings,” she said. “I used it to get my feelings out.”

The response she received from her Twitter followers made her feel more comfortable sharing her story.

Using Twitter “made me realize how many good people are out there,” she said.

Tweets came pouring in from people who wanted to help her. She received two free laptops from people she met through Twitter. People offered to pay her cell phone bill and others sent her bus passes. A documentary filmmaker also reached out to her via Twitter and asked her to be part of his project documenting homelessness. Through that filmmaker, she was invited to speak at Twitter’s 140 Characters Conference, being held in Los Angeles in 2009.

Walsh would also attend Tweetup events in Chicago. At one such Tweetup, she met a case worker who helped her find temporary housing.

“I’m still in a homeless frame of mind because I don’t have any income,” she said. “I would certainly love a job where I can help people in some way.” Walsh says she would particularly love a job working in social media.

Digital Human, Series 12, Episode 4 – Protection