Ready to Help, No Matter What You Did: Responsibility Attribution Does Not Influence Compassion in Expert Buddhist Practitioners

Enrico Fucci, Oussama Abdoun, Constanza Baquedano, Antoine Lutz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Within western social psychology and neuroscience, compassion is described as being conditioned by costbenefit appraisals, such as the attribution of responsibility for the causes of suffering. Buddhist traditions maintain the possibility of cultivating and embodying unconditioned and universal forms of compassion. Whereas a growing body of empirical literature suggests that Buddhist-inspired compassion-based programs foster prosociality and well-being in healthy and clinical populations, there is no evidence that such compassionate disposition toward others can become unconditioned from moral judgment. To address this question, we collected and integrated self-report and behavioral data from expert Buddhist practitioners and trained novices using a previously validated within-subject experiment that manipulates contextual information to influence moral judgment toward suffering others and a newly designed approach-avoidance task. We found that context manipulation impacted responsibility and blame attribution in both groups and that experts’ reported willingness to help was higher and less influenced by context, compared to novices. Partial correlation networks highlighted a negative relationship between blame attribution and willingness to help in novices, but not in expert practitioners. Self-reported willingness to help was correlated to reaction times when approaching suffering stimuli. Approach behavior was modulated by context in novice, but not in experts. This study provides initial evidence of a dissociation between moral attributions and prosocial attitude in expert Buddhist practitioners and challenges established evolutionary accounts of compassion in western psychology.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1093-1111
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Volume153
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 22 Feb 2024
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • altruism
  • comparative ethics
  • evolutionary
  • mindfulness
  • prosocial motivation

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