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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.
The present paper briefly describes and contrasts two different motivations crucially involved in decision making and cooperation, namely fairness-based and compassion-based motivation. Whereas both can lead to cooperation in comparable social situations, we suggest that they are driven by fundamentally different mechanisms and, overall, predict different behavioral outcomes. First, we provide a brief definition of each and discuss the relevant behavioral and neuroscientific literature with regards to cooperation in the context of economic games. We suggest that, whereas both fairness- and compassion-based motivation can support cooperation, fairness-based motivation leads to punishment in cases of norm violation, while compassion-based motivation can, in cases of defection, counteract a desire for revenge and buffer the decline into iterative noncooperation. However, those with compassion-based motivation alone may get exploited. Finally, we argue that the affective states underlying fairness-based and compassion-based motivation are fundamentally different, the former driven by anger or fear of being punished and the latter by a wish for the other person's well-being.
Reputation systems promote cooperation and deter antisocial behavior in groups. Little is known, however, about how and why people share reputational information. Here, we seek to establish the existence and dynamics of prosocial gossip, the sharing of negative evaluative information about a target in a way that protects others from antisocial or exploitative behavior. We present a model of prosocial gossip and the results of 4 studies testing the model's claims. Results of Studies 1 through 3 demonstrate that (a) individuals who observe an antisocial act experience negative affect and are compelled to share information about the antisocial actor with a potentially vulnerable person, (b) sharing such information reduces negative affect created by observing the antisocial behavior, and (c) individuals possessing more prosocial orientations are the most motivated to engage in such gossip, even at a personal cost, and exhibit the greatest reduction in negative affect as a result. Study 4 demonstrates that prosocial gossip can effectively deter selfishness and promote cooperation. Taken together these results highlight the roles of prosocial motivations and negative affective reactions to injustice in maintaining reputational information sharing in groups. We conclude by discussing implications for reputational theories of the maintenance of cooperation in human groups.