Thursday, November 08, 2012

Parenting Styles, Narcissism and the Decline in Empathy

Researchers have noted that people born in the late 1940s and 1950s, when I was, have higher empathy scores than those born in the late 1880s such as my maternal grandfather.

They also found no apparent direct correlation between parental empathy and child empathy, so how empathetic my peers and I are may have nothing to do with the experiences of our parents who were most likely humbled by the Great Depression and World War II.

However, some types of parenting did appear to predict empathy levels in their children when the researchers from the University of Michigan Institute of Social Research looked at 72 different studies conducted from 1979 to 2009 on college students showed that levels of empathy have noticeably declined.

The researchers looked in particular at the areas of “dispositional empathy” which included the following:

Empathic Concern(EC) measures people’s other-oriented feelings of sympathy for the misfortunes of others and, as such, is a more emotional component of empathy...”

Perspective Taking (PT) is a more cognitive or intellectual component, measuring people’s tendencies to imagine other people’s points of view…”

My take-away from the analysis is that today’s hyper-competitive, “helicopter parents” who narcissistically pressure kids to succeed by even doing such things as “red-shirting” kindergarteners so they will be physically and mentally ahead of peers may be contributing even more to the fall-off in empathy among their off-spring.

According to the researchers, the literature surrounding all of these studies, when taken together, suggests that the decline in empathy might be caused by these changes in parenting styles in particular:

  • Parents who are more controlling and less warm and responsive


  • Parents who are less focused  on teaching children to imagine others’ feelings


  • Parents less willing to promote their children’s emotional expressiveness


  • Parents less tolerant of dependent behavior


  • Parents more accepting of their children’s aggression


  • Parents unhappy with the sacrifice that parenting requires

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