People feel less moral when
they stifle sympathy
When people suppress their feelings of compassion, they change
their beliefs about the importance of morality, according to a
study led by Daryl Cameron, a social psychology student at the
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
In the study, published in the March issue of Psychological
Science, 101 undergraduate students viewed images depicting
homeless people, crying babies, and victims of war and famine.
Researchers randomly assigned the participants to one of three
conditions. The first group was told to try to avoid feeling
sympathy while looking at the pictures, the second was told to
suppress their feelings of distress and the third group was directed
to feel whatever emotions came to mind. After the task, the
participants rated how much they wanted to be honest, caring,
helpful, fair and kind. They also answered questions about how
often it is acceptable to violate ethical rules.
Cameron found that people who suppressed their sympathy
did not endorse strict ethics if they also highly valued being a good
person because, due to cognitive dissonance, “people who avoided
compassion couldn’t consistently claim to be a moral person and to
believe that one always has to be moral,” Cameron says. “That did
not happen for the other two conditions. There’s something about
regulating compassion that forces this trade-off.”
Participants became more ethically flexible after suppressing
feelings of sympathy, but not distress, while looking at pictures
of crying babies, researchers found.
Sex therapy may backfire for women in unhappy relationships
Sex therapy that relies
on cognitive behavioral
techniques may make women
who are unsatisfied with
their romantic relationships
more distressed, according
to research published in
the June issue of Archives of
Kyle Stephenson, a
clinical psychology student
at the University of Texas at
Austin, used a data set from
a previous study evaluating
the effectiveness of cognitive
behavioral sex therapy.
Stephenson looked at
information on 31 women who met criteria for hypoactive sexual
desire disorder, female sexual arousal disorder and/or female
orgasmic disorder, and who underwent eight weekly sessions
of individual therapy. Before and after treatment, the women
answered questions about their relationship satisfaction, sexual
functioning, distress related to sex and sexual satisfaction.
On average, the women said they felt more desire and arousal
and reached orgasm more
easily following therapy,
regardless of how satisfied
they were with their
relationships. However, the
unhappily coupled women
whose sexual functioning
improved became even
more distressed about their
sex lives after therapy than
For women in troubled relationships, improved sexual functioning
correlated with increased distress, a study suggests.
Rose Pastore is a writer in Chicago.