Between a rock and a kind face

Newsweek has an article on human good and evil that trots out the usual Milgram-fuelled moral pondering before morphing into a fascinating piece on the psychology of compassion.

The most interesting part is where it discusses which psychological traits predict compassionate behaviour:

A specific cluster of emotional traits seem to go along with compassion. People who are emotionally secure, who view life’s problems as manageable and who feel safe and protected tend to show the greatest empathy for strangers and to act altruistically and compassionately.

In contrast, people who are anxious about their own worth and competence, who avoid close relationships or are clingy in those they have tend to be less altruistic and less generous, psychologists Philip Shaver of the University of California, Davis, and Mario Mikulincer of Bar-Ilan University in Israel have found in a series of experiments. Such people are less likely to care for the elderly, for instance, or to donate blood.

The Newsweek article labels these characteristics ‘emotional traits’ but the researchers are actually using the psychological concept of attachment – an approach to relationships and human interaction style that can be seen throughout the lifespan.

The same research team has completed studies showing that increasing people’s perceived security increases altruistic behaviour.

Link to Newsweek on ‘Adventures In Good And Evil’.

One Comment

  1. Posted May 1, 2009 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

    That’s very interesting. I’ve always had the
    sense that, as a mom, insecurity was the greatest enemy of competence, though I couldn’t fully explain why other than annecdotally, through observation. But I think it’s along the same lines. A secure parent can see a child fully as a separate self. Interestingly, that separateness is what enables empathy.


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