Academic journal article College Student Journal

Apathy and Personality Traits among College Students: A Cross-Cultural Comparison

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Apathy and Personality Traits among College Students: A Cross-Cultural Comparison

Article excerpt

The authors adapted a measure of apathy previously used with Japanese college students to investigate relations between this construct and personality traits among U.S. college students. Males and females reported similar levels of apathy, and both were significantly lower than those obtained from Japanese college students. Analyses demonstrate the construct validity of the apathy scales for use with English-speaking participants, and highlight interesting similarities and differences between North American and Japanese students. Results (a) suggest a differentiation between apathy and other personality constructs, (b) demonstrate that apathy is comprised of emotional, social, and goal-oriented components, and (c) point to cultural differences in the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

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Despite the longstanding recognition of apathy among high school and college students, social scientists have devoted little empirical attention to the trait as a distinct construct. By 1995, the trait had been "almost completely dropped from international journals" (Okada, 1995, p. 52). Recently, however, there has been an increased interest in youth apathy from a variety of perspectives. As president of the American Psychological Association, Seligman (1998) lamented that today's youth are experiencing "... the worst demoralization we've had since we've been able to measure it ..." (p. 2), and linked the epidemic of alienation to lower productivity, lower initiative, and higher school absenteeism.

Theoretical and clinical similarities between apathy and traits such as depression notwithstanding, there is growing evidence that apathy is cognitively, neurologically, and behaviorally distinct from depression. Apathy reflects a lack of interests and emotions, as opposed to the negative emotional components typical of depression (Frankl, 1969; Handelman, 1999; Levy, Cummings, Fairbanks, Masterman, Miller, Craig, Paulsen, & Litvan, 1998; Marin, 1997; Marin, Biedrzycki, & Firinciogullari, 1991; Marin, Firinciogullari, & Biedrzycki, 1993). Much of the recent research regarding apathy as a unique construct has been conducted in Japan, due in part to the collectivistic nature of the culture (which promotes feelings of concern and responsibility for one another), as well as the high expectations and stress that characterize the educational system and the workforce. The majority of this research has focused on the development of apathy during adolescence (e.g., Kasai, 2000; Shimosaka, 2001; Shimoyama, 1995; Tetsushima, 1993). Among Japanese college students, apathy has been associated with feelings of alienation, discontent, ego development struggles, and poor family dynamics (Matsubara, 1993), as well as school entrance examination stress, bullying, school dropouts, and suicide (Tazaki & Baer, 1997). College students with high levels of apathy are more likely to experience heightened self-consciousness and a negative self-image (Munekata, 1997), and have less motivation to attend college (Lee, 2004).

For many youth, the experience of leaving home to live in the traditional college environment contributes to or initiates feelings of stress, alienation, and apathy (Halleck, 1967; Tao, Dong, Pratt, Hunsberger, & Pancer, 2000; Wintre & Yaffe, 2000). The stress and emotional challenges of the transition into young adulthood may lead some youth to lose interest in daily activities, and channel little energy into goal-directed activities. Okada (1995) argued that apathy could be a phase that develops in response to stressful situations, such as the first-year college environment. According to Coffield (198 I), apathy is a "reaction to the social conditions that the student encounters" (p. 13). Evidence suggests that academic alienation may typically increase toward late adolescence or early adulthood, when individuals are faced with the daunting task of leaving the security of the family and forging ahead with one's own life (Guernina, 1992; Handelman, 1999). …

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