When Having 'Been There' Doesn't Mean I Care: When Prior Experience Reduces Compassion for Emotional Distress

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Forthcoming

Georgetown McDonough School of Business Research Paper No. 2533466

47 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2014 Last revised: 13 Feb 2015

Date Written: December 3, 2014

Abstract

For those who are struggling with a difficult experience and who seek the support of others, it is a common assumption that others who have been through the experience in the past will be more understanding. To the contrary, the current research found that participants who had previously endured an emotionally distressing event (e.g., bullying, unemployment) more harshly evaluated another person's failure to endure a similar distressing event compared to participants with no experience enduring the event. These effects emerged for three naturally occurring distressing events, as well as one experimentally-induced distressing event. The effect was driven by the tendency for those who previously endured the distressing event to view the event as less difficult to overcome. Taken together, the paper's findings present a paradox such that, in the face of struggle or defeat, the people we are most apt to seek for advice or comfort may be the least likely to provide it.

Keywords: affect, social judgment, hot-cold empathy gap, life events, compassion

Suggested Citation

Ruttan, Rachel and McDonnell, Mary-Hunter and Nordgren, Loran, When Having 'Been There' Doesn't Mean I Care: When Prior Experience Reduces Compassion for Emotional Distress (December 3, 2014). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Forthcoming; Georgetown McDonough School of Business Research Paper No. 2533466. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2533466

Rachel Ruttan (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

Mary-Hunter McDonnell

The Wharton School - The University of Pennsylvania ( email )

3641 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
United States

Loran Nordgren

Northwestern University - Department of Management & Organizations ( email )

Evanston, IL
United States

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