Get 20M+ Full-Text Papers For Less Than $1.50/day. Start a 14-Day Trial for You or Your Team.

Learn More →

Catastrophe Compassion: Understanding and Extending Prosociality Under Crisis

Catastrophe Compassion: Understanding and Extending Prosociality Under Crisis Since January 2020 Elsevier has created a COVID-19 resource centre with free information in English and Mandarin on the novel coronavirus COVID- 19. The COVID-19 resource centre is hosted on Elsevier Connect, the company's public news and information website. Elsevier hereby grants permission to make all its COVID-19-related research that is available on the COVID-19 resource centre - including this research content - immediately available in PubMed Central and other publicly funded repositories, such as the WHO COVID database with rights for unrestricted research re-use and analyses in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source. These permissions are granted for free by Elsevier for as long as the COVID-19 resource centre remains active. Trends in Cognitive Sciences post. As more adolescents see this con- key developmental period is a considerable Science & Society tent, social distancing can be established challenge, but can be achieved by taking ad- as a group norm among friends. This be- vantage of adolescent social influence. Catastrophe haviour will then be modelled by those Compassion: Acknowledgments looking on, who may go on to post similar S-J.B. is funded by Wellcome, the Jacobs Foundation, content themselves. One advantage of Understanding and Switzerland, UKRI-GCRF, and the University of this approach is that it is adolescent led Cambridge. J.L.A. is funded by the MRC. Extending Prosociality and autonomous: the way in which young people manage social distancing, Under Crisis and their motivation for doing so, will UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, London, UK stem naturally from the young people 1, Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge, * Jamil Zaki themselves. Cambridge, UK How do people behave when disas- *Correspondence: Public health bodies should consider sjblakemore@psychol.cam.ac.uk (S.-J. Blakemore). ters strike? Popular media accounts targeting, and even incentivising, influential https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2020.05.001 depict panic and cruelty, but in fact individuals online (i.e., those who have the © 2020 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. individuals often cooperate with capacity to diffuse information among a large online social network). For example, and care for one another during cri- References it may be particularly useful to target social 1. Chen, L.H. et al. (2000) Carrying passengers as a risk fac- ses. I summarize evidence for such tor for crashes fatal to 16- and 17-year-old drivers. JAMA media ‘influencers’, individuals with a 'catastrophe compassion', discuss 283, 1578–1582 strong online presence and a large 2. Gardner, M. and Steinberg, L. (2005) Peer influence on its roots, and consider how it might risk taking, risk preference, and risky decision making in number of adolescent followers. If these adolescence and adulthood: an experimental study. Dev. be cultivated in more mundane individuals model positive social distanc- Psychol. 41, 625 times. 3. Loke, A.Y. and Mak, Y.W. (2013) Family process and peer ing behaviour and communicate the risk influences on substance use by adolescents. Int. of COVID-19 through their platform, J. Environ. Res. Public Health 10, 3868–3885 4. Nesi, J. et al. (2018) Transformation of adolescent peer re- A Surprising Response to Calamity adolescents may listen. An advantage of lations in the social media context: part 2 – application to In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, news targeting social media influencers is that peer group processes and future directions for research. Clin. Child. Fam. Psychol. Rev. 21, 295–319 reports suggested that the natural disaster they exist across a number of domains 5. Maxwell, K.A. (2002) Friends: the role of peer influence had quickly been followed by a human of interest (e.g., different hobbies) and across adolescent risk behaviors. J. Youth Adolesc. 31, one. Unchecked by law enforcement, New 267–277 so are likely to be able to target large 6. Foulkes, L. et al. (2018) Age differences in the prosocial in- Orleanians had apparently committed disparate groups of young people. fluence effect. Dev. Sci. 21, e12666 countless brazen crimes [1]. The New York 7. Choukas-Bradley, S. et al. (2015) Peer influence, peer sta- tus, and prosocial behavior: an experimental investigation Times described the city as a 'snake pit of of peer socialization of adolescents’ intentions to volunteer. anarchy, death, looting, raping, marauding Concluding Remarks J. Youth Adolesc. 44, 2197–2210 8. van Hoorn, J. et al. (2016) Peer influence on prosocial be- thugs' [2]. Although the coronavirus appears to pose a havior in adolescence. J. Res. Adolesc. 26, 90–100 low risk to adolescents themselves, their will- 9. Henneberger, A.K. et al. (2020) Peer influence and adolescent substance use: a systematic review of dynamic social network ingness to follow social distancing guidelines These harrowing stories shaped the reac- research. Adolesc. Res. Rev. Published online January 2, 2020. is essential to reduce the risk for other people. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40894-019-00130-0 tion of the authorities to the crisis – who, 10. Brechwald, W.A. and Prinstein, M.J. (2011) Beyond Adolescent susceptibility to peer influence for example, deployed the national guard homophily: a decade of advances in understanding peer can be beneficial and should be harnessed influence processes. J. Res. Adolesc. 21, 166–179 to 'take control' of the city instead of focus- 11. Blakemore, S.J. (2018) Avoiding social risk in adolescence. by public-health campaigns to increase social ing on humanitarian relief. The stories were Curr. Dir. Psychol. Sci. 27, 116–122 distancing. We propose that adolescents 12. Paluck, E.L. et al. (2016) Changing climates of conflict: a also inaccurate. Although crime did occur social network experiment in 56 schools. Proc. Natl. themselves have a great capacity to influence in New Orleans following Katrina, victims Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 113, 566–571 each other to change norms and peer expec- 13. Yeager, D.S. et al. (2018) Why interventions to influence by and large remained peaceful, and adolescent behavior often fail but could succeed. tations towards public-health goals. Espe- many helped one another [1,3]. Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 13, 101–122 cially important in creating change is the 14. Yeager, D.S. et al. (2015) Declines in efficacy of anti-bullying pro- grams among older adolescents: theory and a three-level meta- need to provide young people with the ca- For decades, social scientists have docu- analysis. J.Appl.Dev.Psychol. 37, 36–51 pacity to lead and enact their own ideas 15. MacArthur, G.J. et al. (2016) Peer-led interventions to mented two narratives about human be- prevent tobacco, alcohol and/or drug use among young within their social networks. Asking adoles- havior during crises. The first holds that, people aged 11–21 years: a systematic review and cents to stayawayfrom their friendsat a meta-analysis. Addiction 111, 391–407 following disasters, individuals (i) panic, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, August 2020, Vol. 24, No. 8 587 Trends in Cognitive Sciences (ii) ignore social order, and (iii) act selfishly. others rather than as a means to protect A second source of catastrophe com- This cluster of beliefs characterizes popu- themselves [8]. passion is emotional connection. Em- lar media accounts of disaster, as well as pathy – sharing, understanding, and lay forecasts. In one study, members of In addition to being prevalent, catastrophe caring for the emotional experiences of the public generally agreed with state- compassion appears to be beneficial. others – predicts prosocial behavior ments including 'when there is an emer- Prosocial behavior exerts positive effects across a range of settings. Consistent on helpers – including increases in gency, crowd members act selfishly', and with this connection, a recent study happiness and decreases in stress and 'when there is an emergency, social found that the empathy of individuals loneliness. Following disasters, mutual aid order breaks down'. Agreement further for those affected by the COVID-19 also tracks increases in positive collective tracked support for 'coercive' handling of pandemic tracked their willingness to outcomes such as social connection, disaster by authorities, such as keeping engage in physical distancing and re- solidarity, and shared resilience [9]. the public uninformed. Interestingly, police lated protective behaviors, and that in- officers – who presumably have extensive ducing empathy for vulnerable people experience with people in crisis – were increased intention to socially distance Roots of Catastrophe Compassion significantly less likely to agree with [10]. Psychologists have pinpointed several these statements [4] (additional references mechanisms that might underlie catastro- are given in the supplemental material Emotional connection can also com- phe compassion. One pertains to the online). prise mutual sharing of affect across powerful nature of social identity. Each of people. After disclosing emotional ex- us identifies with multiple groups, for in- The second narrative comes from histori- periences with each other, individuals stance based on our generation, ideology, cal records. Far from rendering people an- or profession, and we commonly express tend to feel more strongly affiliated to one another. Such disclosures are also tisocial and savage, disasters produce loyalty, care, and prosociality towards a powerful way to recruit supportive be- groundswells of prosocial behavior and members of our own groups. havior during difficult times, and thus feelings of community. In their wake, buffer individuals against stress [11]. survivors develop communities of mutual Social identity is also malleable. A person However, individuals often avoid dis- aid, engage in widespread acts of altruism, may be both a tuba player and an Ohioan, closing negative experiences – for and report a heightened sense of solidarity but those identities vary in salience de- instance because they imagine others with one another [3,5,6]. Unaffected pending on whether they are at band prac- will judge or stigmatize them – and people descend on scenes of disasters tice or a Buckeyes game. Even new thus miss out on the benefits of affect to volunteer, as well as flooding them identities created in a laboratory can take sharing [12]. with donations and volunteers, a phenom- on importance, and can shift one’sten- enon known as 'disaster convergence' [3]. dency to act prosocially towards people Disasters thrust people into a situation in novel groups. Identities also tend to where their suffering is obviously I refer to positive social behaviors in matter most when they contain specific shared with others. This could in turn the face of negative circumstances as characteristics such as shared goals and lower psychological barriers to disclo- 'catastrophe compassion'. Catastrophe shared outcomes. sure, thus creating opportunities for compassion is widespread and consis- deeper connection, mutual help, and tent; it follows earthquakes, war, terrorist When disasters strike, victims may sud- community. Consistent with this idea, attacks, hurricanes, and tsunamis, and – denly be linked in the most important de in the wake of the 1989 Loma Prieta now – a pandemic. As COVID-19 novo group to which they have ever earthquake, individuals frequently spreads, communities around the world belonged. Strangers on a bus that is talked about the disaster and its effects have created 'mutual aid spreadsheets' to bombed might experience a visceral, exis- on them for ~2 weeks [13]. A similar el- help vulnerable neighbors [7], and billions tential sense of shared fate, and might evation in emotional conversations was of people have engaged in physical dis- thus quickly not be strangers any longer – found among Spaniards following the tancing to protect public health – perhaps and instead become collaborators in a 2004 terrorist bombing in Madrid [6]. the most populous act of cooperation in fight for their lives. As described by Drury Researchers further found that sharing history. Consistent with its prosocial na- [9], an elevated sense of shared identity 1 week after the attacks predicted increases ture, one recent study found that people is indeed common to disaster survivors, in solidarity and social support, as well as expressed greater intent to follow distanc- and is a potent source of cooperative decreases in loneliness, 7 weeks later. ing when it was framed as a way to help behavior. 588 Trends in Cognitive Sciences, August 2020, Vol. 24, No. 8 Trends in Cognitive Sciences Extending Catastrophe One way to achieve this is to reify and for- be surprised by it any longer, but instead Compassion malize communities of disaster survivors to realize that prosociality is common, and As Solnit [3] observes, although few people such that they can remain visible to each thus to expect – and demand – it from would want a disaster to befall them, many other and salient to the identity of the sur- others and from ourselves. survivors look back on disasters with a vivors. Many such communities already surprising amount of nostalgia. Floods, exist – for instance in peer counseling Supplemental Information bombings, and earthquakes are horrific, associations that connect and support Supplemental information associated with this article but in their aftermath individuals glimpse can be found online at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics. people who have endured addiction, levels of community, interdependence, 2020.05.006. and altruism that are difficult to find during have lost loved ones to war, or have normal times. Normal times then return, been victims of assault. Broader groups Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA often accompanied by the boundaries that also often emphasize remembrance of di- typically separate people. sasters, for instance when cultural rituals *Correspondence: and practices commemorate a culture’s jzaki@stanford.edu (J. Zaki). experience of hardship as a way of bond- https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2020.05.006 Might catastrophe compassion outlast the ing individuals and generations. catastrophes themselves, and if so, how? © 2020 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Some suggestive evidence emerges from Another way to extend catastrophe com- the study of individuals who endure per- References 1. Tierney, K. et al. (2006) Metaphors matter: disaster myths, passion is to simply remember it, and what sonal forms of disaster – adverse events media frames, and their consequences in Hurricane it reveals about human social behavior. such as severe illness, family loss, and vic- Katrina. Ann. Am. Acad. Pol. Soc. Sci. 604, 57–81 2. Dowd, M. (2005) United States of shame. New York Times When people believe others will 'go rogue' timization by crime. Such adversity often 3 September following disasters, they are expressing generates increases in prosocial behavior, 3. Solnit, R. (2010) A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, Penguin one flavor of a more general, dim view of which Staub and Vollhardt [14] have termed 4. Drury, J. et al. (2013) Psychological disaster myths in the 'altruism born of suffering'. The positive ef- their fellow citizens. Individuals tend to be perception and management of mass emergencies. J. Appl. Soc. Psychol. 43, 2259–2270 fects of adversity appear to extend in time. unduly cynical about human nature, and 5. Bauer, M. et al. (2016) Can war foster cooperation? For instance, the experience of lifetime for example, demonstrably overestimate J. Econ. Perspect. 30, 249–274 6. Páez, D. et al. (2007) Social sharing, participation in adversity reportedly tracks the willingness the extent that people are driven by self- demonstrations, emotional climate, and coping with col- of an individual to help strangers and their interest [16]. Cynicism tracks decreases in lective violence after the March 11th Madrid bombings 1. J. Soc. Issues 63, 323–337 ability to avoid 'compassion collapse' by psychological well-being, and can also be- 7. Samuel, S. (2020) How to help people during the pan- maintaining empathy even in the face of come self-fulfilling, for instance when people demic, one Google spreadsheet at a time. Vox 16 April 8. Jordan, J. et al. (2020) Don’t get it or don’t spread it? Com- numerous victims [15]. conform to a selfish norm that they errone- paring self-interested versus prosocially framed COVID-19 ously believe others are following. prevention messaging. PsyArXiv Published online April 3, 2020. http://dx.doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/yuq7x Interestingly, this latter effect is partially ex- 9. Drury, J. (2018) The role of social identity processes in plained by an increased sense of efficacy As Drury [9]writes, '… in much of everyday mass emergency behaviour: an integrative review. Eur. Rev. Soc. Psychol. 29, 38–81 life, particularly in Western and neoliberal (i.e., the belief that one can make a difference) 10. Pfattheicher, S. et al. (2020) The emotional path to action: societies, people are overwhelmingly posi- among people who have endured high levels empathy promotes physical distancing during the COVID- 19 pandemic. PsyArXiv Published online March 23, 2020. tioned as individuals acting on the basis of of adversity. Further, experimentally inducing http://dx.doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/y2cg5 personal self-interest ... [and] … the re- people to believe in their own efficacy to 11. Williams, W.C. et al. (2018) Interpersonal emotion regulation: implications for affiliation, perceived support, relationships, peated finding that people, in fact, act make a difference for others increases their and well-being. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 115, 224 collectively in events where personal self- compassion in the face of mass suffering 12. Bruk, A. et al. (2018) Beautiful mess effect: self–other differences in evaluation of showing vulnerability. J. Pers. interest is threatened requires explanation.' [15]. Although speculative, it is possible that, Soc. Psychol. 115, 192 For all the suffering they produce, social be- during disasters, people witness their own 13. Pennebaker, J.W. and Harber, K.D. (1993) A social stage model of collective coping: the Loma Prieta Earth- havior during and after disasters provides a prosocial efficacy firsthand because the quake and the Persian Gulf War. J. Soc. Issues 49, counterpoint to the prevailing cynicism of others they help are highly visible – neighbors, 125–145 14. Vollhardt, J.R. (2009) Altruism born of suffering and our culture. Catastrophe compassion pre- friends, and victims upon whom a spotlight prosocial behavior following adverse life events: a review sents people with a view of ourselves that has been shone. As such, highlighting and conceptualization. Soc. Justice Res 22, 53–97 15. Lim, D. and DeSteno, D. (2019) Past adversity protects prosocial efficacy in nondisastrous times, by might surprise us – driven by 'otherishness' against the numeracy bias in compassion. Emotion making the targets and effects of helping rather than by selfishness during crucially Published online September 17, 2019. https://doi.org/ 10.1037/emo0000655 more visible, could extend the willingness of important moments. One way to honor 16. Miller, D.T. (1999) The norm of self-interest. Am. Psychol. individuals to help beyond disaster contexts. and extend this positive behavior is to not 54, 1053 Trends in Cognitive Sciences, August 2020, Vol. 24, No. 8 589 http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Trends in Cognitive Sciences Pubmed Central

Catastrophe Compassion: Understanding and Extending Prosociality Under Crisis

Trends in Cognitive Sciences , Volume 24 (8) – May 14, 2020

Loading next page...
 
/lp/pubmed-central/catastrophe-compassion-understanding-and-extending-prosociality-under-0G5B5ef0JJ
Publisher
Pubmed Central
Copyright
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
ISSN
1364-6613
eISSN
1879-307X
DOI
10.1016/j.tics.2020.05.006
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Since January 2020 Elsevier has created a COVID-19 resource centre with free information in English and Mandarin on the novel coronavirus COVID- 19. The COVID-19 resource centre is hosted on Elsevier Connect, the company's public news and information website. Elsevier hereby grants permission to make all its COVID-19-related research that is available on the COVID-19 resource centre - including this research content - immediately available in PubMed Central and other publicly funded repositories, such as the WHO COVID database with rights for unrestricted research re-use and analyses in any form or by any means with acknowledgement of the original source. These permissions are granted for free by Elsevier for as long as the COVID-19 resource centre remains active. Trends in Cognitive Sciences post. As more adolescents see this con- key developmental period is a considerable Science & Society tent, social distancing can be established challenge, but can be achieved by taking ad- as a group norm among friends. This be- vantage of adolescent social influence. Catastrophe haviour will then be modelled by those Compassion: Acknowledgments looking on, who may go on to post similar S-J.B. is funded by Wellcome, the Jacobs Foundation, content themselves. One advantage of Understanding and Switzerland, UKRI-GCRF, and the University of this approach is that it is adolescent led Cambridge. J.L.A. is funded by the MRC. Extending Prosociality and autonomous: the way in which young people manage social distancing, Under Crisis and their motivation for doing so, will UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, London, UK stem naturally from the young people 1, Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge, * Jamil Zaki themselves. Cambridge, UK How do people behave when disas- *Correspondence: Public health bodies should consider sjblakemore@psychol.cam.ac.uk (S.-J. Blakemore). ters strike? Popular media accounts targeting, and even incentivising, influential https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2020.05.001 depict panic and cruelty, but in fact individuals online (i.e., those who have the © 2020 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. individuals often cooperate with capacity to diffuse information among a large online social network). For example, and care for one another during cri- References it may be particularly useful to target social 1. Chen, L.H. et al. (2000) Carrying passengers as a risk fac- ses. I summarize evidence for such tor for crashes fatal to 16- and 17-year-old drivers. JAMA media ‘influencers’, individuals with a 'catastrophe compassion', discuss 283, 1578–1582 strong online presence and a large 2. Gardner, M. and Steinberg, L. (2005) Peer influence on its roots, and consider how it might risk taking, risk preference, and risky decision making in number of adolescent followers. If these adolescence and adulthood: an experimental study. Dev. be cultivated in more mundane individuals model positive social distanc- Psychol. 41, 625 times. 3. Loke, A.Y. and Mak, Y.W. (2013) Family process and peer ing behaviour and communicate the risk influences on substance use by adolescents. Int. of COVID-19 through their platform, J. Environ. Res. Public Health 10, 3868–3885 4. Nesi, J. et al. (2018) Transformation of adolescent peer re- A Surprising Response to Calamity adolescents may listen. An advantage of lations in the social media context: part 2 – application to In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, news targeting social media influencers is that peer group processes and future directions for research. Clin. Child. Fam. Psychol. Rev. 21, 295–319 reports suggested that the natural disaster they exist across a number of domains 5. Maxwell, K.A. (2002) Friends: the role of peer influence had quickly been followed by a human of interest (e.g., different hobbies) and across adolescent risk behaviors. J. Youth Adolesc. 31, one. Unchecked by law enforcement, New 267–277 so are likely to be able to target large 6. Foulkes, L. et al. (2018) Age differences in the prosocial in- Orleanians had apparently committed disparate groups of young people. fluence effect. Dev. Sci. 21, e12666 countless brazen crimes [1]. The New York 7. Choukas-Bradley, S. et al. (2015) Peer influence, peer sta- tus, and prosocial behavior: an experimental investigation Times described the city as a 'snake pit of of peer socialization of adolescents’ intentions to volunteer. anarchy, death, looting, raping, marauding Concluding Remarks J. Youth Adolesc. 44, 2197–2210 8. van Hoorn, J. et al. (2016) Peer influence on prosocial be- thugs' [2]. Although the coronavirus appears to pose a havior in adolescence. J. Res. Adolesc. 26, 90–100 low risk to adolescents themselves, their will- 9. Henneberger, A.K. et al. (2020) Peer influence and adolescent substance use: a systematic review of dynamic social network ingness to follow social distancing guidelines These harrowing stories shaped the reac- research. Adolesc. Res. Rev. Published online January 2, 2020. is essential to reduce the risk for other people. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40894-019-00130-0 tion of the authorities to the crisis – who, 10. Brechwald, W.A. and Prinstein, M.J. (2011) Beyond Adolescent susceptibility to peer influence for example, deployed the national guard homophily: a decade of advances in understanding peer can be beneficial and should be harnessed influence processes. J. Res. Adolesc. 21, 166–179 to 'take control' of the city instead of focus- 11. Blakemore, S.J. (2018) Avoiding social risk in adolescence. by public-health campaigns to increase social ing on humanitarian relief. The stories were Curr. Dir. Psychol. Sci. 27, 116–122 distancing. We propose that adolescents 12. Paluck, E.L. et al. (2016) Changing climates of conflict: a also inaccurate. Although crime did occur social network experiment in 56 schools. Proc. Natl. themselves have a great capacity to influence in New Orleans following Katrina, victims Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 113, 566–571 each other to change norms and peer expec- 13. Yeager, D.S. et al. (2018) Why interventions to influence by and large remained peaceful, and adolescent behavior often fail but could succeed. tations towards public-health goals. Espe- many helped one another [1,3]. Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 13, 101–122 cially important in creating change is the 14. Yeager, D.S. et al. (2015) Declines in efficacy of anti-bullying pro- grams among older adolescents: theory and a three-level meta- need to provide young people with the ca- For decades, social scientists have docu- analysis. J.Appl.Dev.Psychol. 37, 36–51 pacity to lead and enact their own ideas 15. MacArthur, G.J. et al. (2016) Peer-led interventions to mented two narratives about human be- prevent tobacco, alcohol and/or drug use among young within their social networks. Asking adoles- havior during crises. The first holds that, people aged 11–21 years: a systematic review and cents to stayawayfrom their friendsat a meta-analysis. Addiction 111, 391–407 following disasters, individuals (i) panic, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, August 2020, Vol. 24, No. 8 587 Trends in Cognitive Sciences (ii) ignore social order, and (iii) act selfishly. others rather than as a means to protect A second source of catastrophe com- This cluster of beliefs characterizes popu- themselves [8]. passion is emotional connection. Em- lar media accounts of disaster, as well as pathy – sharing, understanding, and lay forecasts. In one study, members of In addition to being prevalent, catastrophe caring for the emotional experiences of the public generally agreed with state- compassion appears to be beneficial. others – predicts prosocial behavior ments including 'when there is an emer- Prosocial behavior exerts positive effects across a range of settings. Consistent on helpers – including increases in gency, crowd members act selfishly', and with this connection, a recent study happiness and decreases in stress and 'when there is an emergency, social found that the empathy of individuals loneliness. Following disasters, mutual aid order breaks down'. Agreement further for those affected by the COVID-19 also tracks increases in positive collective tracked support for 'coercive' handling of pandemic tracked their willingness to outcomes such as social connection, disaster by authorities, such as keeping engage in physical distancing and re- solidarity, and shared resilience [9]. the public uninformed. Interestingly, police lated protective behaviors, and that in- officers – who presumably have extensive ducing empathy for vulnerable people experience with people in crisis – were increased intention to socially distance Roots of Catastrophe Compassion significantly less likely to agree with [10]. Psychologists have pinpointed several these statements [4] (additional references mechanisms that might underlie catastro- are given in the supplemental material Emotional connection can also com- phe compassion. One pertains to the online). prise mutual sharing of affect across powerful nature of social identity. Each of people. After disclosing emotional ex- us identifies with multiple groups, for in- The second narrative comes from histori- periences with each other, individuals stance based on our generation, ideology, cal records. Far from rendering people an- or profession, and we commonly express tend to feel more strongly affiliated to one another. Such disclosures are also tisocial and savage, disasters produce loyalty, care, and prosociality towards a powerful way to recruit supportive be- groundswells of prosocial behavior and members of our own groups. havior during difficult times, and thus feelings of community. In their wake, buffer individuals against stress [11]. survivors develop communities of mutual Social identity is also malleable. A person However, individuals often avoid dis- aid, engage in widespread acts of altruism, may be both a tuba player and an Ohioan, closing negative experiences – for and report a heightened sense of solidarity but those identities vary in salience de- instance because they imagine others with one another [3,5,6]. Unaffected pending on whether they are at band prac- will judge or stigmatize them – and people descend on scenes of disasters tice or a Buckeyes game. Even new thus miss out on the benefits of affect to volunteer, as well as flooding them identities created in a laboratory can take sharing [12]. with donations and volunteers, a phenom- on importance, and can shift one’sten- enon known as 'disaster convergence' [3]. dency to act prosocially towards people Disasters thrust people into a situation in novel groups. Identities also tend to where their suffering is obviously I refer to positive social behaviors in matter most when they contain specific shared with others. This could in turn the face of negative circumstances as characteristics such as shared goals and lower psychological barriers to disclo- 'catastrophe compassion'. Catastrophe shared outcomes. sure, thus creating opportunities for compassion is widespread and consis- deeper connection, mutual help, and tent; it follows earthquakes, war, terrorist When disasters strike, victims may sud- community. Consistent with this idea, attacks, hurricanes, and tsunamis, and – denly be linked in the most important de in the wake of the 1989 Loma Prieta now – a pandemic. As COVID-19 novo group to which they have ever earthquake, individuals frequently spreads, communities around the world belonged. Strangers on a bus that is talked about the disaster and its effects have created 'mutual aid spreadsheets' to bombed might experience a visceral, exis- on them for ~2 weeks [13]. A similar el- help vulnerable neighbors [7], and billions tential sense of shared fate, and might evation in emotional conversations was of people have engaged in physical dis- thus quickly not be strangers any longer – found among Spaniards following the tancing to protect public health – perhaps and instead become collaborators in a 2004 terrorist bombing in Madrid [6]. the most populous act of cooperation in fight for their lives. As described by Drury Researchers further found that sharing history. Consistent with its prosocial na- [9], an elevated sense of shared identity 1 week after the attacks predicted increases ture, one recent study found that people is indeed common to disaster survivors, in solidarity and social support, as well as expressed greater intent to follow distanc- and is a potent source of cooperative decreases in loneliness, 7 weeks later. ing when it was framed as a way to help behavior. 588 Trends in Cognitive Sciences, August 2020, Vol. 24, No. 8 Trends in Cognitive Sciences Extending Catastrophe One way to achieve this is to reify and for- be surprised by it any longer, but instead Compassion malize communities of disaster survivors to realize that prosociality is common, and As Solnit [3] observes, although few people such that they can remain visible to each thus to expect – and demand – it from would want a disaster to befall them, many other and salient to the identity of the sur- others and from ourselves. survivors look back on disasters with a vivors. Many such communities already surprising amount of nostalgia. Floods, exist – for instance in peer counseling Supplemental Information bombings, and earthquakes are horrific, associations that connect and support Supplemental information associated with this article but in their aftermath individuals glimpse can be found online at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics. people who have endured addiction, levels of community, interdependence, 2020.05.006. and altruism that are difficult to find during have lost loved ones to war, or have normal times. Normal times then return, been victims of assault. Broader groups Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA often accompanied by the boundaries that also often emphasize remembrance of di- typically separate people. sasters, for instance when cultural rituals *Correspondence: and practices commemorate a culture’s jzaki@stanford.edu (J. Zaki). experience of hardship as a way of bond- https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2020.05.006 Might catastrophe compassion outlast the ing individuals and generations. catastrophes themselves, and if so, how? © 2020 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. Some suggestive evidence emerges from Another way to extend catastrophe com- the study of individuals who endure per- References 1. Tierney, K. et al. (2006) Metaphors matter: disaster myths, passion is to simply remember it, and what sonal forms of disaster – adverse events media frames, and their consequences in Hurricane it reveals about human social behavior. such as severe illness, family loss, and vic- Katrina. Ann. Am. Acad. Pol. Soc. Sci. 604, 57–81 2. Dowd, M. (2005) United States of shame. New York Times When people believe others will 'go rogue' timization by crime. Such adversity often 3 September following disasters, they are expressing generates increases in prosocial behavior, 3. Solnit, R. (2010) A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, Penguin one flavor of a more general, dim view of which Staub and Vollhardt [14] have termed 4. Drury, J. et al. (2013) Psychological disaster myths in the 'altruism born of suffering'. The positive ef- their fellow citizens. Individuals tend to be perception and management of mass emergencies. J. Appl. Soc. Psychol. 43, 2259–2270 fects of adversity appear to extend in time. unduly cynical about human nature, and 5. Bauer, M. et al. (2016) Can war foster cooperation? For instance, the experience of lifetime for example, demonstrably overestimate J. Econ. Perspect. 30, 249–274 6. Páez, D. et al. (2007) Social sharing, participation in adversity reportedly tracks the willingness the extent that people are driven by self- demonstrations, emotional climate, and coping with col- of an individual to help strangers and their interest [16]. Cynicism tracks decreases in lective violence after the March 11th Madrid bombings 1. J. Soc. Issues 63, 323–337 ability to avoid 'compassion collapse' by psychological well-being, and can also be- 7. Samuel, S. (2020) How to help people during the pan- maintaining empathy even in the face of come self-fulfilling, for instance when people demic, one Google spreadsheet at a time. Vox 16 April 8. Jordan, J. et al. (2020) Don’t get it or don’t spread it? Com- numerous victims [15]. conform to a selfish norm that they errone- paring self-interested versus prosocially framed COVID-19 ously believe others are following. prevention messaging. PsyArXiv Published online April 3, 2020. http://dx.doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/yuq7x Interestingly, this latter effect is partially ex- 9. Drury, J. (2018) The role of social identity processes in plained by an increased sense of efficacy As Drury [9]writes, '… in much of everyday mass emergency behaviour: an integrative review. Eur. Rev. Soc. Psychol. 29, 38–81 life, particularly in Western and neoliberal (i.e., the belief that one can make a difference) 10. Pfattheicher, S. et al. (2020) The emotional path to action: societies, people are overwhelmingly posi- among people who have endured high levels empathy promotes physical distancing during the COVID- 19 pandemic. PsyArXiv Published online March 23, 2020. tioned as individuals acting on the basis of of adversity. Further, experimentally inducing http://dx.doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/y2cg5 personal self-interest ... [and] … the re- people to believe in their own efficacy to 11. Williams, W.C. et al. (2018) Interpersonal emotion regulation: implications for affiliation, perceived support, relationships, peated finding that people, in fact, act make a difference for others increases their and well-being. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 115, 224 collectively in events where personal self- compassion in the face of mass suffering 12. Bruk, A. et al. (2018) Beautiful mess effect: self–other differences in evaluation of showing vulnerability. J. Pers. interest is threatened requires explanation.' [15]. Although speculative, it is possible that, Soc. Psychol. 115, 192 For all the suffering they produce, social be- during disasters, people witness their own 13. Pennebaker, J.W. and Harber, K.D. (1993) A social stage model of collective coping: the Loma Prieta Earth- havior during and after disasters provides a prosocial efficacy firsthand because the quake and the Persian Gulf War. J. Soc. Issues 49, counterpoint to the prevailing cynicism of others they help are highly visible – neighbors, 125–145 14. Vollhardt, J.R. (2009) Altruism born of suffering and our culture. Catastrophe compassion pre- friends, and victims upon whom a spotlight prosocial behavior following adverse life events: a review sents people with a view of ourselves that has been shone. As such, highlighting and conceptualization. Soc. Justice Res 22, 53–97 15. Lim, D. and DeSteno, D. (2019) Past adversity protects prosocial efficacy in nondisastrous times, by might surprise us – driven by 'otherishness' against the numeracy bias in compassion. Emotion making the targets and effects of helping rather than by selfishness during crucially Published online September 17, 2019. https://doi.org/ 10.1037/emo0000655 more visible, could extend the willingness of important moments. One way to honor 16. Miller, D.T. (1999) The norm of self-interest. Am. Psychol. individuals to help beyond disaster contexts. and extend this positive behavior is to not 54, 1053 Trends in Cognitive Sciences, August 2020, Vol. 24, No. 8 589

Journal

Trends in Cognitive SciencesPubmed Central

Published: May 14, 2020

References