Can You Teach Compassion?

We all want to be treated with compassion, but can we be compassionate too?


Many wonder if compassion can be taught or is it just inborn? Research on child development and temperament seems to suggest that some young children appear to be born more compassionate than others. Some are more attentive to the needs and concerns of others. Yet research also suggests that compassion can be taught throughout the lifespan too.

For example, research in my lab here at Santa Clara University has found that college students who attend service learning immersion trips spending a great time with those who are poor and marginalized in either domestic or international location do, in fact, become more compassionate (at least after their immersion experience and for several months later when assessed in follow up testing).

We are currently examining a large university data set to determine which college activities (e.g., selected major, extracurricular activities) are associated with compassion development over time.

by Thomas Plante