Washington: Compassion may lead us to do more to help the wronged than to punish the wrongdoer, a new study has found.
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 behaviours, it may also play a role in creating more just societal institutions, including the legal and penal systems, researchers 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," said lead researcher Helen Weng, a former graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
"It may seem counterintuitive that punishment behaviour 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 behaviour in the future," said Weng, current postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, San Francisco.
The researchers tested whether compassion was related to helping or punishment in two studies where participants played the "Helping Game" or "Punishment Game," using real money they could keep at the end of the game.
In both games, participants watched through online interactions as one player with more funds chose to split an unfair amount of money with another player with no funds. In one study examining 260 people who had no training in compassion, the team explored whether high self-reported empathic concern - the feeling component of compassion where one reports caring for those who are suffering - was associated with helping victims, punishing transgressors, or both.
"People with higher empathic concern were more likely to help the victim than punish the transgressor," Weng said.
"But, interestingly, within the group of people who decided to punish the transgressor, those with more empathic concern decided to punish less," Weng added....