From suffering to caring: a model of differences among older adults in levels of compassion

Authors

  • Raeanne C. Moore,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
    2. Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
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  • A'verria Sirkin Martin,

    1. Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
    2. Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
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  • Allison R. Kaup,

    1. Sierra Pacific Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center, San Francisco VA Medical Center and Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA
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  • Wesley K. Thompson,

    1. Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
    2. Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
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  • Matthew E. Peters,

    1. Department of Psychiatry, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA
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  • Dilip V. Jeste,

    1. Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
    2. Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
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  • Shahrokh Golshan,

    1. Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
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  • Lisa T. Eyler

    1. Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
    2. Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
    3. Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center, VA San Diego Healthcare System, La Jolla, CA, USA
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Abstract

Objective

Compassion is an important contributor to pro-social behavior and maintenance of interpersonal relationships, yet little is known about what factors influence compassion in late life. The aim of this study was to test theories about how past and current stressors and emotional functioning, resilience, and demographic indicators of life experiences are related to compassion among older adults.

Methods

One thousand and six older adults (50–99 years) completed a comprehensive survey including self-report measures of compassion, resilience, past and present stress, and emotional functioning (i.e., stressful life events, perceived stress, and current and prior depression and anxiety), and demographic information. The sample was randomly split, and exploratory and confirmatory regression analyses were conducted testing hypothesized relationships with compassion.

Results

Exploratory stepwise regression analysis (n = 650) indicated that participants who reported higher levels of compassion were more likely to be female, not currently in a married/married-like relationship, reported higher resilience levels, and had experienced more significant life events. Age, income level, past and current mental distress, and interactions between resilience and other predictors were not significantly related to compassion. The associations between greater self-reported compassion and being female, having greater resilience, and having experienced more significant life events were supported by a confirmatory stepwise regression analysis (n = 356).

Conclusions

Older women report more compassion than older men. Resilience and significant life events, independently, also appear to facilitate a desire to help others, while current stress and past and present emotional functioning are less relevant. Specificity of findings to older adults is not yet known. Copyright © 2014 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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