Compassion can turn you from `punisher` into `helper`

A compassionate approach can lead to more help and less punishment, according to a new study.

Washington: A compassionate approach can lead to more help and less punishment, according to a new study.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers suggest that compassion and intentionally cultivating it through training may lead us to do more to help the wronged than to punish the wrongdoer. 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. 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.

Weng added 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.

Weng says she and her collaborators 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 added "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 the journal PLoS ONE.

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