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Emotion. 2016 Mar;16(2):175-182. doi: 10.1037/emo0000144. Epub 2016 Jan 11.

Suffering and compassion: The links among adverse life experiences, empathy, compassion, and prosocial behavior.

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Department of Psychology, Northeastern University.


Experiencing past adversity traditionally has been linked to negative life outcomes. However, emerging evidence suggests that heterogeneity exists with respect to links between adversity and resilience, with adversity often enhancing cooperation in the face of joint suffering. Here, the authors present 2 studies designed to examine if the severity of past adversity is associated with an enduring propensity for empathy-mediated compassion, and, if so, whether the resulting compassion directly is, in turn, linked to behavior meant to relieve the suffering of others. Using both MTurk and laboratory-based paradigms, the authors find that increasing severity of past adversity predicts increased empathy, which in turn, is linked to a stable tendency to feel compassion for others in need. In addition, they demonstrate that the resulting individual differences in compassion appear to engender behavioral responses meant to assist others (i.e., charitable giving, helping a stranger).

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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