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Apathy, or effectively the feeling of "not caring" or putting it colloquially, "not giving a rats", is something that most of us get sometime or another in varying degrees.

My question is, what are the cognitive and neurological bases for apathy? Why is it that some experience it far stronger and more often than others?

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    $\begingroup$ From look at the research I don't think anyone in psychology and neuroscience cares. :) $\endgroup$ – John Jul 5 '13 at 13:57
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnChristie very punny, ha ha ha... but, you may actually be on the money there. $\endgroup$ – user3554 Jul 5 '13 at 23:04
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    $\begingroup$ You might find some relevant/related information under "flat affect"--which looks a lot like not giving a rats! $\endgroup$ – Krysta Jul 9 '13 at 19:48
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Assuming the original poster (now departed) was considering apathy as a distinct phenomena from depression, then current evidence points to the current neurological basis of apathy being connectivity in the pre-motor brain systems according to "Individual Differences in Premotor Brain Systems Underlie Behavioral Apathy" by Bonelle et al. (2016):

The results demonstrate that behavioral apathy is associated with increased effort sensitivity as well as greater recruitment of neural systems involved in action anticipation: supplementary motor area (SMA) and cingulate motor zones. In addition, decreased structural and functional connectivity between anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and SMA were associated with increased behavioral apathy. These findings reveal that effort sensitivity and translation of intentions into actions might make a critical contribution to behavioral apathy. We propose a mechanism whereby inefficient communication between ACC and SMA might lead to increased physiological cost—and greater effort sensitivity—for action initiation in more apathetic people.

Note that the authors of the paper controlled for depression using questionnaires:

Self-reports of apathy traits were obtained using a modified, extended version of the original Lille Apathy Rating Scale (LARS-e), available online in Bonnelle et al. (2014) (see Supplementary Material for more details). The LARS-e uses subscales that allow assessment of apathy traits along several domains reflecting the distinct component of apathy (behavioral, cognitive, and emotional). We used the “Action Initiation” (AI) subscale of the LARS-e, which measures every-day productivity and initiative and is an index of behavioral apathy (Sockeel et al. 2006). This subscale was previously found specifically to relate to the willingness to engage in an effort response in order to obtain a reward on our paradigm (Bonnelle et al. 2014). In addition, to control for a potential confound of depression and anhedonia, we also used the Depression, Anxiety, Stress Scales (DASS) (Lovibond and Lovibond 1995), a questionnaire developed in nonclinical populations to measure depression, and the Snaith–Hamilton Pleasure Scale (Snaith et al. 1995), which assesses anhedonia.

The authors assessed patients according to their willingness to complete a task while stakes (a combination of expected reward and expected effort) were manipulated. They found a high correlation between sensitivity to effort and behavioural apathy as assessed via the questionnaires in the previous quote. They then examined connectivity via fMRI of the patients completing the task and determined certain areas were more connected in patients with lower behavioural apathy. Specifically, the pre-motor brain systems were better connected in non-apathetic individuals.

It's unclear what this means cognitively, but the authors hypothesize, based on other activation, that this: "might be due to higher 'subjective experience' of effort cost in individuals who are more apathetic".

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If there’s an overarching cause for apathy, it’s probably pessimism about your future.

(The Curse of Apathy, Psychology Today)

However, this article also has lots to say about various medical/physiological causes.

It would be interesting to know to what extent apathy is caused or enhanced by socio-political factors. For example, when I was a teacher, I learned that certain minorities didn't try hard in school because it's seen as a sign of "being too white." One could argue that might be something other than apathy, but that kind of attitude and behavior certainly hits close to home.

And what about the media that tell people "Don't vote!" and everything's hopeless?

Activist David Meslin argues that people often care, and that apathy is often the result of social systems actively obstructing engagement and involvement.

Apathy (Wikipedia)

In this spirit, it's worth noting that apathy isn't just a problem experienced by individuals. Much has been written about societal apathy, or "apathy of the masses." of course, it's well known that the masses are heavily influenced by various forms of mind control.

"The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it." -- Albert Einstein

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In some cases, Apathy descends from dissatisfaction one has faced in his own life. An apathetic would generally be a man whose own desires to be loved have not been sated in the past. Generally such a person doesn't give a damn when he comes across someone in need.

Somehow he convinces himself "When nobody paid heed to me when I needed help, Why should I help anyone?". And as we all believe, We become what we repeatedly do. Thus, voice within him that guides him to help others goes on to become weaker and weaker.

Others, I suppose are too engrossed in fulfilling their own goals and pursuing their own interests that they don't have scope left to look into others' lives and their problems.

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    $\begingroup$ I like the logic of this, it is prefered if you can offer some researched evidence to support ideas on this particular Stack Exchange site. cheers $\endgroup$ – Yvette Colomb Nov 2 '13 at 12:05

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