Concern for other people and the environment rose among American teens during the recent recession, a new study indicates.
Researchers analyzed data collected from high school seniors between 1976 and 2010, and found that concern for others declined significantly between the mid-1970s and 2004-2006, and then climbed during the 2008-2010 recession.
Along with greater concern for others, students who graduated during the recession also had more interest in social issues, in saving energy and in protecting the environment, the psychologists at San Diego State University (SDSU) and University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found.
For example, 63% of recession-era high school seniors said they made an effort to turn down the heat at home to save energy, compared to 55% before the recession. 30% of recession-era 12th graders said they thought often about social problems, compared to 26% before the recession, the investigators found. During the recession, 36% of high school seniors said they would be willing to use a bicycle or mass transport to get to work, up from 28% before the recession.
"Although young people's concern for others and for the environment is still lower than it was in the 1970s, the recession has apparently led youth to focus more on others compared to the economic boom times of the mid-2000s," Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at SDSU, said in a university news release.
"Amidst all of the suffering caused by the recession, there may be positive benefits to society if more Americans are looking outside themselves," Twenge added.
And according to Patricia Greenfield, a psychology professor at UCLA, "This is the silver lining of the Great Recession."
Greenfield noted in the news release, "These findings are consistent with my theory that fewer economic resources lead to more concern for others and the community. It is a change very much needed by our society."
The study was published July 11 in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
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