Compassion Fatigue as a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Believing Compassion Is Limited Increases Fatigue and Decreases Compassion
Gainsburg, I., & Lee Cunningham, J. (2023). Compassion Fatigue as a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Believing Compassion Is Limited Increases Fatigue and Decreases Compassion. Psychological Science, 0(0).
People’s compassion responses often weaken with repeated exposure to suffering, a phenomenon known as compassion fatigue. Why is it so difficult to continue feeling compassion in response to others’ suffering? We propose that people’s limited-compassion mindsets—beliefs about compassion as a limited resource and a fatiguing experience—can result in a self-fulfilling prophecy that reinforces compassion fatigue. Across four studies of adults sampled from university students and online participant pools in the United States, we show that there is variability in people’s compassion mindsets, that these mindsets can be changed with convincing information, and that limited-compassion mindsets predict lower feelings of compassion, lower-quality social support, and more fatigue. This contributes to our understanding of factors that underlie compassion fatigue and supports the broader idea that people’s beliefs about the nature of emotions affect how emotions are experienced. Together, this research contributes to developing a strategy for increasing people’s capacity to feel compassion and their social support.