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What is compassion? And how did it evolve? In this review, we integrate 3 evolutionary arguments that converge on the hypothesis that compassion evolved as a distinct affective experience whose primary function is to facilitate cooperation and protection of the weak and those who suffer. Our empirical review reveals compassion to have distinct appraisal processes attuned to undeserved suffering; distinct signaling behavior related to caregiving patterns of touch, posture, and vocalization; and a phenomenological experience and physiological response that orients the individual to social approach. This response profile of compassion differs from those of distress, sadness, and love, suggesting that compassion is indeed a distinct emotion. We conclude by considering how compassion shapes moral judgment and action, how it varies across different cultures, and how it may engage specific patterns of neural activation, as well as emerging directions of research.
Lower-class individuals, because of their lower rank in society, are theorized to be more vigilant to social threats relative to their high-ranking upper-class counterparts. This class-related vigilance to threat, the authors predicted, would shape the emotional content of social interactions in systematic ways. In Study 1, participants engaged in a teasing interaction with a close friend. Lower-class participants—measured in terms of social class rank in society and within the friendship—more accurately tracked the hostile emotions of their friend. As a result, lower-class individuals experienced more hostile emotion contagion relative to upper-class participants. In Study 2, lower-class participants manipulated to experience lower subjective socioeconomic rank showed more hostile reactivity to ambiguous social scenarios relative to upper-class participants and to lower-class participants experiencing elevated socioeconomic rank. The results suggest that class affects expectations, perception, and experience of hostile emotion, particularly in situations in which lower-class individuals perceive their subordinate rank.