Apathy: Definition, Causes & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is Apathy?
  • 1:33 Causes of Apathy
  • 2:36 Symptoms of Apathy
  • 2:59 Treating Apathy
  • 3:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Apathy is characterized by indifference to pretty much everything. People with apathy don't generally feel enthusiastic about things, but they don't feel generally sad either. Read this lesson to learn what causes apathy, its symptoms, and how it's treated.

What Is Apathy?

Charles couldn't figure out what was wrong with him, and frankly, he didn't really care. For the past month, he had lost interest in hanging out with his friends, and he stopped putting effort in at work. This was a stark contrast to his usual demeanor - he could always be counted on to get his work done on time and was usually a great friend. His boss had already talked to him once and threatened to fire him if he didn't get his act together, and his girlfriend was getting fed up with his lack of enthusiasm about anything. What was wrong with Charles?

Apathy is the state of feeling completely indifferent about what's going on around you. Like Charles, people with apathy have a disinterest in life and social interactions, and generally, show little motivation to do anything. Apathy can be a symptom of another condition, or it can be a condition in itself. It's important to note that everyone feels restless and a little disinterested in things every once in awhile, but long-term apathy is not normal (even in teenagers). Apathy becomes problematic when it starts to affect someone's quality of life.

While it might seem like apathy is the same thing as depression, that's not true. However, apathy can be a symptom of depression. The difference between apathy and depression is that those with apathy don't feel happy, but they don't experience feelings of hopelessness, disappointment, and suicidal thoughts either, which are common in depression. It's believed that the front lobe of the brain houses the area responsible for apathy.

Causes of Apathy

Apathy is often a symptom of another condition, of which there are many possibilities. It can be a symptom of:

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Frontotemporal or vascular dementia
  • Depression
  • Progressive supranuclear palsy
  • Anxiety
  • Huntington's disease
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Schizophrenia
  • Stroke

As previously mentioned, apathy may be a condition in itself. To diagnose someone with just apathy, physicians look for four symptoms, all of which must be present for at least four weeks.

The first symptom is decreased or complete lack of motivation. Individuals suffering from apathy must also have noticeable changes in thinking, emotional state, and behavior. The symptoms negatively affect their quality of life, and these behavior changes are not attributable to another condition.

If we look at Charles' situation, he falls under all of these categories, so it appears he is suffering from apathy.

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