The high-status compassion bias: when and why do people assist high- and low-status victims?

Matos Devesa, Andrea Soledad (2022) The high-status compassion bias: when and why do people assist high- and low-status victims? PhD thesis, University of Nottingham.

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Does the social status of victims in emergencies play a role in bystanders’ compassionate orientations towards them? In this thesis, I examine the hitherto unexplored proposition that bystanders may be more inclined toward expressing compassion in favor of victims who signal high (rather than low) social status. I tested this novel thesis in six experiments that systematically varied the social status of victims of fabricated emergencies and afterward measured their compassion to investigate whether the expression of this emotion was stronger for higher (relative to lower) status victims. In doing so, I considered a variety of situational and individual difference factors that could enable (or constrain) a compassion bias favoring victims from high-status backgrounds.

In the first empirical chapter (3), I showed that participants (N = 436) reported higher compassionate intentions toward victims of a terror attack that were described as coming from a high-status (vs. low-status) background, while also providing indirect evidence that cost calculations may play a role in this process. In the second empirical chapter (4), I directly investigated the cost-calculus caveat and explored the role of ideological persuasions. The initial experiment in Chapter 4 (N = 273) showed that even participants with an egalitarian ideology do sometimes succumb to the high-status compassion bias, but this occurs when the cost of doing so is trivial for them: a trend that was largely replicated in a subsequent experiment in that chapter (N = 288). The final empirical chapter (5) explored the role that threat appraisals might play in the process, testing the idea of whether high-status victims will continue to benefit from a compassion bias even when they seem threatening to bystanders. In the three experiments (N = 1,373) reported in Chapter 5, I showed that threat appraisals undermine a compassion bias favoring victims from both high and low-status backgrounds.

Hence, overall, the preponderance of the evidence across Chapters 3-5 affirms the existence of compassion bias favoring victims from high-status backgrounds, although they also do outline important situational and individual difference factors that can sometimes eliminate or even reverse this trend. This is an important contribution in terms of not only theoretical advancements (i.e., helping to show that status plays a role in compassion during emergencies) but also practice (e.g., it could be useful in the training of frontline emergency responders).

Item Type: Thesis (University of Nottingham only) (PhD)
Supervisors: Owuamalam, Chuma
Ang, Patricia
Keywords: compassion, intergroup processes, discrimination, social status, helping intentions
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Faculties/Schools: University of Nottingham, Malaysia > Faculty of Science and Engineering — Science > School of Psychology
Item ID: 69364
Date Deposited: 24 Jul 2022 04:40
Last Modified: 24 Jul 2022 04:40

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