Compassion and intentionally cultivating it through training may lead us to do more to help the wronged than to punish the wrongdoer, suggested a new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Researchers found compassion may also impact the extent to which people punish the transgressor.
Understanding what motivates people to be altruistic can not only inform our own behaviors, it may also play a role in creating more just societal institutions, including the legal and penal systems.
‘Compassion may lead us to do more to help the wronged than to punish the wrongdoer. The findings may help develop compassion training for specific populations that care for those who are suffering, like health care professionals.’
Lead researcher Helen Weng said, "It can also help researchers develop better interventions to cultivate compassion. Any action, helping or punishing, can arise from compassion, which involves at least two components: a 'feeling' component of empathic concern and caring for the suffering of another; and a cognitive, motivational component of wanting to alleviate that suffering. It may seem counterintuitive that punishment behavior can arise from compassion, but if the goal is to alleviate suffering of others, this may include providing negative feedback to the wrongdoer so that they change their behavior in the future. We hope this work can be used to help develop compassion training for specific populations that care for those who are suffering, like health care professionals."
Senior author Richard J. Davidson said, "We can use simple practices to help us activate and nurture these propensities and apply them in settings in which they can dramatically impact the climate and interactions that ensue in everyday life, including in education, health care and the workplace."
The study is published in PLoS ONE.