START A PETITION 25,136,189 members: the world's largest community for good
START A PETITION
x

Are Humans Instinctively Compassionate?

Are Humans Instinctively Compassionate?

com•pas•sion: noun \kəm-ˈpa-shən\ a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc.

We reach out to those in pain, take in stray animals and dash off our checks to help strangers suffering across the globe. Humans are compassionate toward those in need. In fact, considerable scientific research suggests, we may actually be compelled to be compassionate.

“Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” – Nelson Mandela

The Instinct for Compassion

That humans are instinctively compassionate is a viewpoint that has been expressed, hypothesized and tested in multiple studies over the last two decades. two african childrenSome of this research is referenced in the widely circulated article, The Compassionate Instinct, by UC Berkeley Psychology Professor Dacher Keltner. He cited different studies that showed similar neurological reactions in mothers seeing pictures of their own or others’ babies and subjects asked to think about people being harmed.

The neurological reactions occurred in areas of the brain associated with positive emotions, said Keltner, founding faculty director of the school’s Greater Good Science Center.

“This consistency strongly suggests that compassion isn’t simply a fickle or irrational emotion, but rather an innate human response embedded into the folds of our brains,” Keltner wrote in the 2004 article.

At the Institute of HeartMath, researchers led by Dr. Rollin McCraty, Ph.D. went beyond this in the study, The Physiological and Psychological Effects of Compassion and Anger.

A group of participants, who learned HeartMath’s Freeze-Frame® Technique, were instructed to self-induce care and compassion for five minutes. Another group were instructed to freely experience any emotions they felt while watching a video of Mother Teresa, an emotion-inducement method utilized in previous research.

The results for both groups were substantial and sustained, showing an increase in participants’ immunoglobulin (IgA) levels, a reliable barometer of the body’s immune system activity and proficiency.

Genuine Compassion and its Many Rewards

man and dogWhether through their philosophies, religions, writings or family traditions, cultures past and present have extolled the virtue and reward gained by expressions of genuine compassion for all sentient beings. Again, more than being a proposition widely held in all world societies, many scientists believe and have set out to prove that compassion is biologically based.

In the Association of Psychological Science’s May/June 2013 issue of Observer, Stanford University’s Emma Seppala, Ph.D., writes: “Human suffering is often accompanied by beautiful acts of compassion by others wishing to help relieve it.”

The alleviation of suffering appeared visibly rewarding in infants – whether by them or others – during research at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, Seppala wrote. She is the associate director of Stanford’s Center for Compassion And Altruism Research And Education.

“A recent study they ran indicated that infants’ pupil diameters (a measure of attention) decrease both when they help and when they see someone else helping,” Seppala said, “suggesting that they are not simply helping because helping feels rewarding.”

Looking at compassion from another perspective Seppala asked: “What led 26.5 percent (U.S. Labor Department) of Americans to volunteer in 2012?”

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” –The Dalai Lama

If, as mounting evidence suggests, humans are biologically wired for compassion, that’s a good thing. Beyond the inherent joy of showing compassion to others, there are wonderful benefits to be gained by people who engage in compassionate acts.

The case made by Stony Brook University’s It’s good to be good: 2011 5th annual scientific report on health, happiness and helping others is frank in its assessment and compelling as an argument if only because of the depth of the scientific research upon which it relies.

“Happiness, health and even longevity are benefits that have been reported in more than fifty investigations using a variety of methodologies,” wrote the article’s author, Stony Brook Professor Stephen G. Post, Ph.D.“

The conclusion of this review is that when we help others, we help ourselves, with the caveat that we need balance in our lives and hands holdingshould not be overwhelmed,” said Post, head of Stony Brook’s Division of Medicine in Society and director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics. “The evidence for the benefits of giving is now extremely powerful and suggests that health-care professionals might wish to recommend such activities to patients.”

Among the wealth of research Post referenced was The Nun Study correlating longevity with the positive attitudes expressed through the autobiographical writings of 678 Catholic sisters.

Another study he cited started in 1956 and tracked 427 wives and mothers for 30 years. Regardless of all sorts of conditions, including “number of children, marital status, occupation, education or social class, those women who engaged in volunteer work to help other people at least once a week lived longer and had better physical functioning,” Post said.

Read more research studies in IHM’s Research Library.

Even as research shows a biological basis, or instinct for compassion in humans, it’s easy in our fast-paced, do-it-now world to put off or get sidetracked from helping others.

Click here to learn more about many free resources, Tools for Well-Being and Self-Assessment Tools.

Quiet Joy FREE! E-Music, align the beauty and intelligence of the heart with the power of the mind and body. A blend of music that is both relaxing and energizing. Click to receive this Free e-music, Quiet Joy.

Read more: Do Good, Family, General Health, Health, Healthy Aging, Home, Life, Love, Men's Health, Mental Wellness, Nourishing the Heart, Spirit, Women's Health, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

have you shared this story yet?

go ahead, give it a little love

Sara, from Institute of HeartMath

Sara Childre is President and CEO of the non-profit Institute of HeartMath. Since 1991, Sara has helped oversee and develop HeartMath trainings, educational products and scientific programs. She was appointed vice president and CFO of the institute in 1992, then president and CEO in 1998.

218 comments

+ add your own
12:58PM PST on Feb 6, 2014

I would like to think that humans are compassionate, I think that we are. If this is the case then those who do not show compassion toward other living beings are clearly deviants from the norm and should be treated as such.

5:47AM PST on Feb 5, 2014

Thank you.

8:16AM PST on Feb 3, 2014

i agree it is human nature, or instinct, to feel compassion.

9:50AM PST on Feb 1, 2014

ty

9:51PM PST on Jan 30, 2014

maybe so. i read somewhere that people with the biggest hearts suffer the most.

9:40AM PST on Jan 29, 2014

I think we are born compassionate, maybe not as much as other animals, but its a part of us.
And then we just fight it little by little because we are afraid of getting hurt or mocked or used or whatever.

9:23AM PST on Jan 27, 2014

The more long term studies we do and share, the more apparent it becomes that we are at a threshold moment.
Spread the word... Be kind

9:23AM PST on Jan 27, 2014

The more long term studies we do and share, the more apparent it becomes that we are at a threshold moment.
Spread the word... Be kind

12:50AM PST on Jan 27, 2014

Thanks and I have shared it also

12:49AM PST on Jan 27, 2014

Thanks and I have shared it also

add your comment



Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

people are talking

Fortunately, I do not like overly sweet things and if I do eat a bought cookie, end up wishing I had…

Although it's pretty sad that we have to do this kind of label reading to ensure that we get safer f…

Thanks for sharing.

What a lovely graphic. Thank you for sharing, and providing hope of spring to the southern side of t…

Story idea? Want to blog? Contact the editors!



Select names from your address book   |   Help
   

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.