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Lack Of Compassion Can Make People Feel Less Moral, Study Shows

When a stranger asks for money, people choose not to give for a variety of reasons, even if their hearts want to -- perhaps they're not sure what the money will be used for, or perhaps they'd rather give to an organization that helps people in need. Or maybe they just don't want to part with their cash.

But a new study in the journal Psychological Science suggests that there could be a hidden cost to not being compassionate -- it might make you feel a little less moral.

"Compassion is such a powerful emotion. It's been called a moral barometer," study researcher Daryl Cameron, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said in a statement.

The researchers had study participants look at 15 images of people, including victims of war, crying babies and homeless people. The study participants were split up into three groups: the first was told to try and suppress feelings of sympathy, the second was told to try and suppress feeling of distress, and the third was told to just feel whatever emotions came to them.

After the study participants looked at the slideshow of images, they were surveyed on whether they thought moral rules should always be observed, as well as the value they placed on being a moral person themselves.

The researchers found that the ideas about morality differed between the groups, depending on whether they were told to stifle their sympathetic feelings, or feelings of distress. They found that people who suppressed their compassion were more likely to say they were flexible or didn't care so much about being moral.

On the other hand, a study published last year in the Journal of Consumer Research showed that feelings of nostalgia are able to goad a person to feel more giving.

"Nostalgia increases empathy-based charitable intentions and behaviors," study researcher Dr. Tim Wildschut, a senior lecturer at the University of Southampton, said in a statement. "It is encouraging to learn that people can mine their nostalgic memories and derive from this a feeling of empathy for the suffering of others."