Constructing Compassion

Daryl Cameron University of Iowa

Philosophical definitions
How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it. Of this kind is pity or compassion, the emotion which we feel for the misery of others… this sentiment, like all the other original passions of human nature, is by no means confined to the virtuous and humane, though they perhaps may feel it with the most exquisite sensibility. The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it. (Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments)

Philosophical definitions
Compassion requires three judgments: 1. Severe suffering 2. Undeserved suffering 3. Similar life possibilities to sufferer (Aristotle, Rhetoric)

Martha Nussbaum (2001) replaces the third judgment with the judgment that the sufferer is relevant to oneself, a judgment which can be aided by similarity.

Psychological definitions

Batson (2011), empathic concern:

other-oriented emotion elicited by and congruent with the perceived welfare of someone in need

Psychological definitions

Goetz, Keltner, & Simon-Thomas (2010), compassion: the feeling that arises in witnessing another’s

What causes compassion?
Perceived need

Valuing other’s welfare

• Blame • Similarity • Self-relevance

Coping ability

• Emotion regulation • Efficacy • Attachment security

Compassion ≠ Theory of Mind
 Theory of mind can involve knowing what another feels, taking the other’s perspective, projecting oneself into the other’s situation  Although these routes can lead to compassion, they aren’t sufficient or necessary

Compassion ≠ Empathy
 Empathy: matching the emotional state of someone else.. i.e., “empathic resonance”, “emotional empathy”, “emotional mimicry”… feeling with  Compassion: distinct emotional state that is concerned with relieving suffering of other… feeling for  Empathy isn’t sufficient or necessary for compassion

Compassion ≠ Distress
 Distress: anxiety and discomfort in response to the suffering of someone else… selffocused  Compassion: different antecedents (focus on other rather than on self) and consequences (more consistent helping behavior)

Empathy, compassion, distress

Klimecki & Singer (2012)

In compassion’s ballpark

 Sympathy: less intense suffering…?  Pity: implies power relation  Love / loving-kindness: no suffering needed  Sadness: loss to self rather than other

Is compassion an emotion?
 Would need to be an affective state constituted by specific appraisals distinct from other emotions  Appear to be distinct appraisals and consequences  But there are lingering ambiguities about compassion as an emotion, which depend upon theoretical perspectives on emotions in general…

Need to compare compassion inductions against emotions of similar valence and arousal to establish distinct effects

Core affect

Emotion concepts

Situation cues

compassion may emerge in different forms depending on the situational cues that are incorporated into the conceptualization process

Discrete emotion (e.g., compassion, disgust)

Is compassion a moral emotion?
 What counts as a moral emotion?  Antecedents: compassion arises in the context of undeserved harms, about which human societies have prescribed moral rules  Consequences: compassion influences morally relevant attitudes, judgments, behaviors

Moral benefits of compassion
 Increases pro-social behavior (Batson, 2011; Eisenberg, 2000)  Influences moral identity and principles (Cameron & Payne, 2012)  Influences moral judgments (Condon & DeSteno, 2010; Cote et al., 2012; Young & Glengarrcht, 2013)  Can improve intergroup attitudes and stigma (Batson et al., 1997)  Can improve cooperation (Batson & Ahmad, 2001)

Empathy-altruism model
Altruism: motivational state with the ultimate goal of increasing another’s welfare  Create experiments that induce compassion and assess changes in altruistic behavior, rule out egoistic alternatives for helping (where another’s welfare would only be an instrumental, rather than ultimate, goal)

Empathy-altruism model
Compassion induction: imagine what Katie Banks is going through, or simply observe technical aspects Misattribution manipulation: ingested pills lead to relaxation or warmth/sensitivity

Coke, Batson, & McDavis (1978)

Empathy-altruism model
 Compassion induction: Learn that “Elaine” shares similar values to you or not (Study 1); ingest pill that you think will make you feel warmth/sensitivity, or anxiety/discomfort (Study 2)  Ease of escape: If don’t take Elaine’s place to get shocks, will either have to keep watching all 10 trials, or only 2 trials

Batson et al. (1981)

Limits of compassion

Compassion and empathy as “parochial, narrow-minded, and innumerate” “Empathy leads us astray only when we take it as a moral guide”

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