Social Psychology Network

Maintained by Scott Plous, Wesleyan University

Social Psychology Day of Compassion

Students in Social Psychology are invited to complete a participant-observation assignment on the psychology of compassion. The purpose of this assignment is to put the course material into action in daily contexts, applying social psychology research findings on attributional biases, bystander intervention, conflict resolution, empathy, and so on.

Part I: Participate in the Day of Compassion

To complete this assignment, choose a day that will be your "Day of Compassion" and try your absolute best to live each minute of that day as compassionately as possible. In other words, for a full 24-hour period you should do your best to reduce suffering of others, help those in need, be considerate and respectful, and avoid causing harm to any living being.

When carrying out this assignment, leave no behavior unexamined -- from watching TV to eating lunch to decisions about giving time or money to others. That is, don't limit yourself to simply holding the door open for a stranger or petting a lonely dog; think about all the unnecessary suffering in the world, and strive for the greatest impact and deepest level of compassion without being phony or insincere. It is up to you to define what compassion is and to decide how best to realize it.

If you are already quite compassionate, try being compassionate toward groups you don't often focus on, and even if your actions don't differ much from how you normally behave, carefully observe and analyze what transpires during the day. If outside events make it difficult for you to participate on the designated day, or if you feel dissatisfied with your performance of the assignment, feel free to repeat the exercise on a later day.

Note: To minimize any bias in social reactions, it is best if you do not tell others about the class assignment until after the Day of Compassion is over.

Part II: Write About Your Experience

"The problem is whether we are determined to go in the direction of compassion or not. If we are, then can we reduce the suffering to a minimum? If I lose my direction, I have to look for the North Star, and I go to the north. That does not mean I expect to arrive at the North Star. I just want to go in that direction."

~Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace (1987)

By noon on the due date, submit a social psychological analysis of what the day was like. Here are a few sample questions you might address:
  • How did you define compassion, and who were the recipients of your efforts?

  • If your behavior was different than normal, which person did you like more: the "Day of Compassion you" or the "normal you"? If you preferred the "Day of Compassion you," what are the psychological factors that prevent this "you" from coming out?

  • What are the psychological costs and benefits of behaving compassionately? In your view, do the benefits outweigh the costs?

  • How did others respond to your compassion? Do you think they noticed a difference in your behavior? What attributions did people make for your behavior, and why?

  • If you wanted to encourage others to behave as you did during the Day of Compassion, what psychological techniques would you use? How can social psychology be used to foster compassion?

  • If you were to predict your behavior one month from now, do you think it will be changed in any way as a result of participating in the Day of Compassion? If so, how? If not, why not?

Step III: Submit Your Paper Via Moodle in PDF Format

To receive full credit, you must submit via Moodle a one-page, double-spaced PDF document that has your name on it and uses 1" margins and 12-point font. Papers submitted in non-PDF format will receive half credit (PDF is required because the export and file combination system of Moodle and Adobe Acrobat don't work with other file formats, such as Word, Pages, and txt). No time extensions will be given except in cases of a family or medical emergency, so please be sure to upload your paper well before class on the day that it's due.

Important Note

This assignment is intended to be engaging and informative, but you can opt out of it if you prefer. As stated in the course syllabus: "If at any point you prefer not to complete an assignment (or if your attempt to complete it is unsuccessful), you can still receive full credit by turning in a one-page report discussing the psychological factors that prevented you from carrying out the assignment."

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