Has any extensive research been done into what the most common causes of apathy are and are there any treatments with a highly reported success rate? If so, what are these?

For clarification of what apathy is, it is a state of desensitization, where subjects seem to strongly lack any observable moods, and have severely dampened feelings and/or emotions. One well known side effect is that apathetic people often struggle to motivate themselves to perform tasks.

(From wikipedia)

Apathy is a lack of feeling, emotion, interest, and concern. Apathy is a state of indifference, or the suppression of emotions such as concern, excitement, motivation, and/or passion. An apathetic individual has an absence of interest in or concern about emotional, social, spiritual, philosophical, and/or physical life and the world.

Other questions specifically about apathy: What are the cognitive and neurological bases for apathy?

Some research about pathological apathy I was able to find: https://academic.oup.com/cercor/article/26/2/807/2367142/Individual-Differences-in-Premotor-Brain-Systems (here's also an article)

  • $\begingroup$ Are you describing apathy as a form of pathology, like depression? $\endgroup$
    – mrt
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 16:13
  • $\begingroup$ @mrt Yes, I am of that belief. I know apathy is commonly associated with various mental disorders and conditions and I am open to that view and not excluding that possibility, but I have reason to believe that apathy can exist independent of these conditions. An example scenario would be that apathy could have been created as a symptom or byproduct of another condition, such as depression but even after that condition is 'cured' the apathy can still remain afterwards as a condition of it's own. $\endgroup$
    – Cestarian
    Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 3:11
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @DavidBlomstrom you may be confusing mind control with propaganda. Which is a form of mind control but it's not bona fide mind control, it's designed to influence people of neutral position to form a specific stance. You may also be talking about subliminal messages, but based on research I've seen, subliminal messages can only strengthen your stance on something or re-direct it rather than actually 'control' anything (for example you're hungry, you see a picture of a juicy hamburger, you are now hungry for burgers specifically instead of just being hungry for anything)... Define mind control. $\endgroup$
    – Cestarian
    Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 15:37
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Cestarian Well, do you have any peer-reviewed empirical evidence to support your claim that apathy is a discrete pathology? It would be difficult to answer this question if the premise is false. $\endgroup$
    – mrt
    Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 17:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @mrt there is this academic.oup.com/cercor/article/26/2/807/2367142/… It also exists in article form, if you're feeling lazy ox.ac.uk/news/2015-11-13-brain-structure-may-be-root-apathy-1 $\endgroup$
    – Cestarian
    Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 18:38

1 Answer 1


Main causes of Apathy

There are 2 main ways that Apathy can manifest itself, and that is either through a mental health condition, or a physical medical condition. (APA, 2013 p. 682) (IDC-10 Code: F07)

I will list some mental health causes and physical causes below, but the main way of dealing with the apathy would depend on the cause.

Treatment for apathy

The way to treat apathy would be to treat the root cause, where possible, through psychotherapy, psychiatric help and/or other agency support.

I emphasised root cause because where the initial cause found may be substance abuse for example, the substance abuse can be attributed to a different cause (the root cause) which could be a parent-child relationship problem or trauma.

Where apathy persists after treatment

If apathy remains after successful treatment of the root cause(s), then the problem will most likely lie with motivation.

You could look at the question on here about Theories of Human Motivation for information, or just look at various motivational courses, exercises and activities such as these activities.

Breakdown of Main Causes of Apathy

Mental health causes

This is not a full list, but includes,

  • Separation Axiety Disorder

    When separated from major attachment figures, children with separation anxiety disorder may exhibit social withdrawal, apathy, sadness, or difficulty concentrating on work or play.
    (APA, 2013 p. 192)

  • Major Depressive Disorder

    In major depressive disorder, the individual may avoid leaving home because of apathy, loss of energy, low self-esteem, and anhedonia. (APA, 2013 p. 221)

  • Neurocognitive Disorders (NCDs) such as Delirium

    Delirium is often associated with a disturbance in the sleep-wake cycle....The individual with delirium may exhibit emotional disturbances, such as anxiety, fear, depression, irritability, anger, euphoria, and apathy. (APA, 2013 p. 600)

  • Behavioral-Variant Major or Mild Frontotemporal NCD

    present with varying degrees of apathy or disinhibition. They may lose interest in socialization, selfcare, and personal responsibilities, or display socially inappropriate behaviors. (APA, 2013 p. 615)

Physical Problems Causing Mental Health Problems

This is not a full list, but includes,

  • Inhalant Intoxication
    This can create

    Clinically significant problematic behavioral or psychological changes (e.g., belligerence, assaultiveness, apathy, impaired judgment) (APA, 2013 p. 538)

  • Opioid Intoxication
    This can create

    Clinically significant problematic behavioral or psychological changes (e.g., initial euphoria followed by apathy, dysphoria, psychomotor agitation or retardation, impaired judgment) that developed during, or shortly after, opioid use. (APA, 2013 p. 546)

  • Other toxic, metabolic, traumatic, neoplastic, or infectious disorders that impair brain function and cognition

    Numerous neurological and other medical conditions may produce the clinically significant behavioral or psychological changes (e.g., belligerence, assaultiveness, apathy, impaired judgment) that also characterize inhalant intoxication. (APA, 2013 p. 540)

  • Major or Mild NCD due to Traumatic Brain Injury

    may be accompanied by disturbances in emotional function (e.g., irritability, easy frustration, tension and anxiety, affective lability); personality changes (e.g., disinhibition, apathy, suspiciousness, aggression); physical disturbances (e.g., headache, fatigue, sleep disorders, vertigo or dizziness, tinnitus or hyperacusis, photosensitivity, anosmia, reduced tolerance to psychotropic medications); and, particularly in more severe TBI, neurological symptoms and signs (e.g., seizures, hemiparesis, visual disturbances, cranial nerve deficits) and evidence of orthopedic injuries. (APA, 2013 p. 625)


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing.


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