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The challenges of measuring compassion

Compassion and empathy are very fashionable words in the media right now – especially when it comes to lack of them: lack of empathy is often cited as one of the defining traits of psychopaths and recent studies have also identified it as a sign for the onset of certain types of dementia.

On a more positive note, though, compassion is a social emotion which may be a driver for positive behaviour such as charitable giving or as a component of brand love. One of the latest examples is John Lewis and their 2015 Christmas ad which aims to elicit compassionate feelings to grow the brand.

It’s no wonder then that to many brands it’s important to measure compassion – but what is the best way to achieve this?

Measurement of compassion is very challenging. Traditionally studies have relied on self-reported information to measure how compassionate people are – using statements such as β€˜It’s important to take care of people who are vulnerable’ or β€˜I am a very compassionate person’. However, this approach is flawed as most people would find it difficult to say β€˜no’ to these types of statements when asked. β€˜Rational’ measures of compassion are also proven to be subject to bias as they can be easily influenced by factors such as whether people perceive themselves as part of a group, as well as their social background.

Lucky for us, compassion manifests itself through physiological changes as well, which are the most direct gateway to emotions: for example, key markers of compassion are a slowing down of the heart rate and a constant skin conductance. By measuring bodily reactions we can also distinguish between simple distress – which is a negative emotion driving the individual to focus solely on themselves – and genuine compassion, which is motivating and outward-looking.

Emotional Logic uses biosensors to help clients derive a more accurate measurement of compassion and understand its influence on fundraising and advertising effectiveness/brand. For more information please email

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