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Multiple Facets of Compassion: The Impact of Social Dominance Orientation and Economic Systems Justification


Business students appear predisposed to select disciplines consistent with pre-existing worldviews. These disciplines (e.g., economics) then further reinforce the worldviews which may not always be adaptive. For example, high levels of Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) is a trait often found in business school students (Sidanius et al., Political Psychol 12(4):691–721, 1991). SDO is a competitive and hierarchical worldview and belief-system that ascribes people to higher or lower social rankings. While research suggests that high levels of SDO may be linked to lower levels of empathy, research has not established the potential relationship between another related adaptive trait in the workplace, compassion. Compassion facilitates workplace performance by lowering levels of litigation, easing stress, and facilitating cooperation. Accordingly, the following study aimed to examine the relationship between SDO and compassion while hypothesizing Economic Systems Justification (ESJ) would mediate this relationship. Because of the importance of compassion in the workplace, the prevalence of SDO in the business academic community (Sidanius et al. 1991) and the topicality of ESJ, we conducted our study with business school students. Results confirmed all but one hypothesis.

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Correspondence to Daniel Martin.


Appendix: Compassion-Related Scales

Short Form of the Self-Compassion Scale

  1. 1.

    When I fail at something important to me I become consumed by feelings of inadequacy.

  2. 2.

    I try to be understanding and patient toward those aspects of my personality I don’t like.

  3. 3.

    When something painful happens I try to take a balanced view of the situation.

  4. 4.

    When I’m feeling down, I tend to feel like most other people are probably happier than I am.

  5. 5.

    I try to see my failings as part of the human condition.

  6. 6.

    When I’m going through a very hard time, I give myself the caring and tenderness I need.

  7. 7.

    When something upsets me I try to keep my emotions in balance.

  8. 8.

    When I fail at something that’s important to me, I tend to feel alone in my failure.

  9. 9.

    When I’m feeling down I tend to obsess and fixate on everything that’s wrong.

  10. 10.

    When I feel inadequate in some way, I try to remind myself that feelings of inadequacy are shared by most people.

  11. 11.

    I’m disapproving and judgmental about my own flaws and inadequacies.

  12. 12.

    I’m intolerant and impatient toward those aspects of my personality I don’t like.

Santa Clara Brief Compassion Scale

  1. 1.

    When I hear about someone (a stranger) going through a difficult time, I feel a great deal of compassion for him or her.

  2. 2.

    I tend to feel compassion for people, even though I do not know them.

  3. 3.

    One of the activities that provide me with the most meaning to my life is helping others in the world when they need help.

  4. 4.

    I would rather engage in actions that help others, even though they are strangers, than engage in actions that would help me.

  5. 5.

    I often have tender feelings toward people (strangers) when they seem to be in need.

The Compassion Evaluation Scale

Scale 1: Expressing Compassion for Others

  1. 1.

    People will take advantage of me if they see me as too compassionate

  2. 2.

    Being compassionate toward people who have done bad things is letting them off the hook

  3. 3.

    There are some people in life who don’t deserve compassion

  4. 4.

    I fear that being too compassionate makes people an easy target

  5. 5.

    People will take advantage of you if you are too forgiving and compassionate

  6. 6.

    I worry that if I am compassionate, vulnerable people can be drawn to me and drain my emotional resources

  7. 7.

    People need to help themselves rather than waiting for others to help them

  8. 8.

    I fear that if I am compassionate, some people will become too dependent upon me

  9. 9.

    Being too compassionate makes people soft and easy to take advantage of

  10. 10.

    For some people, I think discipline and proper punishments are more helpful than being compassionate to them

Scale 2: Responding to the Expression of Compassion from Others

  1. 1.

    Wanting others to be kind to oneself is a weakness

  2. 2.

    I fear that when I need people to be kind and understanding they wont be

  3. 3.

    I’m fearful of becoming dependent on the care from others because they might not always be available or willing to give it

  4. 4.

    I often wonder whether displays of warmth and kindness from others are genuine

  5. 5.

    Feelings of kindness from others are somehow frightening

  6. 6.

    When people are kind and compassionate towards me I feel anxious or embarrassed

  7. 7.

    If people are friendly and kind I worry they will find out something bad about me that will change their mind

  8. 8.

    I worry that people are only kind and compassionate if they want something from me

  9. 9.

    When people are kind and compassionate towards me I feel empty and sad

  10. 10.

    If people are kind I feel they are getting too close

  11. 11.

    Even though other people are kind to me, I have rarely felt warmth from my relationships with others

  12. 12.

    I try to keep my distance from others even if I know they are kind

  13. 13.

    If I think someone is being kind and caring towards me, I ‘put up a barrier’

Scale 3: Expressing Kindness and Compassion Towards Yourself

  1. 1.

    I feel that I don’t deserve to be kind and forgiving to myself

  2. 2.

    If I really think about being kind and gentle with myself it makes me sad

  3. 3.

    Getting on in life is about being tough rather than compassionate

  4. 4.

    I would rather not know what being ‘kind and compassionate to myself’ feels like

  5. 5.

    When I try and feel kind and warm to myself I just feel kind of empty

  6. 6.

    I fear that if I start to feel compassion and warmth for myself, I will feel overcome with a sense of loss/grief

  7. 7.

    I fear that if I become kinder and less self-critical to myself then my standards will drop

  8. 8.

    I fear that if I am more self compassionate I will become a weak person

  9. 9.

    I have never felt compassion for myself, so I would not know where to begin to develop these feelings

  10. 10.

    I worry that if I start to develop compassion for myself I will become dependent on it

  11. 11.

    I fear that if I become too compassionate to myself I will lose my self-criticism and my flaws will show

  12. 12.

    I fear that if I develop compassion for myself, I will become someone I do not want to be

  13. 13.

    I fear that if I become too compassionate to myself others will reject me

  14. 14.

    I find it easier to be critical towards myself rather than compassionate

  15. 15.

    I fear that if I am too compassionate towards myself, bad things will happen

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Martin, D., Seppala, E., Heineberg, Y. et al. Multiple Facets of Compassion: The Impact of Social Dominance Orientation and Economic Systems Justification. J Bus Ethics 129, 237–249 (2015).

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  • Social dominance orientation
  • Economic systems justification
  • Compassion