Symposium 6th World Congress on Positive Psychology 2019

Past Adversity Protects Against the Numeracy Bias in Compassion (#23)

Daniel Lim 1 , David DeSteno 2
  1. Department of Psychology, The Pennsylvania State University, State College, PA, United States
  2. Department of Psychology, Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Compassion can be a powerful force in guiding our moral actions. However, past research has suggested that one problem with compassion is its seeming resistance to scale appropriately to the number of targets in distress. This insensitivity to numeracy results in people dampening compassion when faced with mass suffering. With emerging evidence suggesting that experiencing adversity in life may foster compassion and a general prosocial orientation, we explored whether those who have experienced greater adversity show resistance to a numeracy bias that typically leads to compassion collapse. In a series of studies, we demonstrate not only that those who have experienced greater past adversity readily overcome the numeracy bias in compassion, but also that beliefs regarding their ability to help others underlie this link.