Early Adolescents' Compassion and Social Cognitive Reasoning Regarding Hypothetical Scenarios of Harm
Megan Lynn Edgin
Compassion is multifaceted and involves an awareness of suffering, emotional resonance, a sense of common humanity, the ability to regulate difficult emotions, and a desire to relieve suffering (Strauss et al., 2016). Compassion can have numerous positive effects on individuals and society, such as being associated with decreased prejudice and increased prosocial behavior (Sinclair et al., 2016); however, compassion remains an underexplored construct in developmental research. The purpose of
... s study was to better understand compassion and social cognitive reasoning among sixth- and eighth-grade students regarding hypothetical intentional and accidental scenarios of harm. Sixth- and eighth-grade students (N=212) completed an online survey that included two scenarios of harm toward a non-friend peer followed by judgment & reasoning questions related to peer responses and compassion elements, an open-ended compassion description question, and the Dispositional Positive Emotions Scale, Compassion Subscale (DPES-CS). Findings include that dispositional compassion was higher among 8th grade participants compared to 6th grade participants. Early adolescents did not judge uncompassionate peer responses to intentional and accidental harm differently. However, context played a role in how early adolescents reasoned about uncompassionate responses, with moral reasoning used more frequently in the intentional harm scenario and social-conventional reasoning used more frequently in the accidental harm scenario. To varying degrees, all five elements of compassion were present in early adolescents' responses to the scenarios, and moral reasoning was most frequently used in both scenarios regarding each element. The context of intentional versus accidental harm was associated with a number of differences in the presence of compassion elements and associated justifications. The study provides new insights into early adolescents' experience, understanding, and reasoning related to compassion.