Goetz, J. L., Keltner, D., & Simon-Thomas, E. (2010). Compassion: An evolutionary analysis and empirical review. Psychological Bulletin, 136(3), 351-374. doi:10.1037/a0018807
This study aimed to answer the questions: What is compassion? And how did it evolve?
This review article integrates three evolutionary arguments that converge on the hypothesis that compassion evolved as a distinct emotional experience whose primary function is to facilitate cooperation and protection of the weak and those who suffer. Compassion elicits distinct thought processes tuned toward undeserved suffering; distinct behavior related to caregiving patterns of touch, posture, and vocalization; and a phenomenological experience and physiological response that orients the individual to social approach. This response profile of compassion differs from those of distress, sadness, and love, suggesting that compassion is indeed a distinct emotion. The article concludes by considering how compassion shapes moral judgment and action, how it varies across different cultures, and how it may engage specific patterns of neural activation, as well as emerging directions of research.