Demotivated students in a lecture hallApathy, or the absence of emotion, is a feeling of generalized indifference and unaffectedness. The term can be used in a variety of contexts. For example, an apathetic voter is one who has not committed to any candidate because he or she is uninterested in the election. In psychology, apathy can be a symptom of several mental health conditions.

Apathy and Mental Health

Most people experience apathy from time to time. Sometimes apathy is simply an indication that a person does not care about a particular topic. An English major will likely feel apathetic about a new math theory, and a person who dislikes animals may feel apathetic when meeting someone’s pet. There is some evidence that people who experience a significant amount of apathy tend to be less happy because they find the world less intriguing.

Chronic apathy in several areas of life may indicate an underlying health condition. Apathy is common among those experiencing depression, for example, as they may suddenly feel uninterested in activities they once enjoyed. People with obsessive-compulsive tendencies may experience indifference toward their hobbies when their compulsions take over their lives, and people with anxiety may be so focused on their fears they are unable to take interest in the hobbies and social interactions they previously enjoyed.

Apathy in Positive Psychology

Positive psychology is a field of psychology dedicated to building upon a person’s strengths and focusing on the positive aspects of personality rather than scrutinizing and labeling the negative aspects. In positive psychology, apathy is indicative of a person’s uncertainty about the capacity to complete a task. A positive psychologist might argue apathetic voters may feel ill-equipped to identify the proper candidate or be unsure their votes will count.

Overcoming Apathy

People experiencing apathy may struggle with defeating their feelings of indifference. An important first step in combating apathy is to identify any possible triggers or causes and make adjustments to eliminate those triggers from one’s life. Changing a daily routine by adding new activities and scheduling enough events to fill the day can also help keep the mind busy and help prevent apathy. A person can also make small goals and direct personal areas of strength toward those goals or make a larger goal to work toward slowly.


  1. American Psychological Association. APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.
  2. Davenport, B. (2013, April 28). 10 Ways To Snap Out Of Apathy. Retrieved February 26, 2015, from http://www.barriedavenport.com/2013/04/28/10-ways-to-snap-out-of-apathy/.
  3. Kring, A. M., Johnson, S. L., Davison, G. C., & Neale, J. M. (2010). Abnormal psychology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Last Updated: 01-8-2016

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  • Wendy H.

    Wendy H.

    June 23rd, 2015 at 10:08 PM

    Apathy seems to be a factor my partner of 4+years. We moved in together about 6 month ago and he seems very rigid black and white thinking and I feel as if I have no voice . Contemplating ending the relationship.

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