Compassionate responses toward victims: do perceived innocence, proximity and seriousness matter?

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University of Alabama Libraries

People have an innate tendency to feel compassionate toward others' misfortunes. As in the context of natural disasters, compassion toward disaster victims is one of the most important driven forces underlying individual helping behaviors. The current research examines individual compassion and its related constructs under the specific context of disaster communication. By referring to Nussbaum's theory of compassion, this study proposes a model of compassion which states that individual compassion is an other-oriented emotional experience that contains cognitive assessment toward others person's suffering status. The cognitive assessment consist of three main dimensions: Perceived innocence, that the suffering is not caused primarily by the person's own culpable actions; perceived proximity, that one is possibly subject to a similar misfortune; and perceived seriousness, that the suffering is severe rather than trivial. These three cognitive perceptions are related to the way of media portrayal of disaster victims: Portrayal of disaster victims' age and gender influences people's perceptions of innocence; news reports of the cultural affiliation of victims impacts people's perceived proximity; and perceived seriousness varies according to the degree of physical severity of the victims' sufferings. Two experiments were conducted and the results of which mainly supported the proposed model of compassion. In particularly, only cognitive assessments of the disaster victims, that is, only perceived innocence, perceived proximity, and perceived seriousness predicted the variances of compassion significantly and directly. Variables of news portrayal of victims influenced compassion only through the mediation of corresponding cognitive responses. Only personal compassionate trait emerged as a moderator between perceived seriousness and compassion. This research shed light on compassion and compassion-related studies from the perspective of communication research. Further scholars should examine the generalization of the model among diverse populations and multiple contexts.

Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
Mass communication, Journalism