Project Information

Kurt Lewin Instituut
Heidelberglaan 1
Room Number H1.42
The Netherlands
T: +31 (0)30 - 253 3027

Project Information

Project Title
"The dark side of compassion"

University of Groningen - Social and Organizational Psychology

PhD Student
Wim Meerholz

Dr. K. Epstude (RuG)
Prof.dr. K. Spears (RuG)

1 September 2011 - 1 September 2015

NWO - Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research


Social scientists have typically treated compassion as a positive concept. For instance, studies on intergroup relations have shown that triggering compassion can reduce prejudice and that it is a predictor of support for affirmative action programs. However, recent work on group-based guilt, guilt that people feel as a result of the behavior of other members of their in-group, suggests that there might be another side to compassion. Although the experience of group-based guilt is unpleasant, it can have beneficial effects: it can lead to increased self-attributions of responsibility and support for attempts to compensate the harmed group. Work by Zebel, Doosje, & Spears (2009) showed that under some conditions, feeling compassion can lower feelings of guilt and, importantly, the consequent support for reparation. This can have profound effects on the resolution of group conflicts.

Where previous work focused on group-based guilt, we shift the focus to compassion. We aim to show that compassion can lower feelings of guilt and wish to discover how and under which conditions this occurs. We will test whether this guilt-reducing effect occurs consciously or unconsciously, study the effects of expressing rather than just feeling compassion, and attempt to dismantle the process that underlies the proposed effects.

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