Compassion as a Study

This topic submitted by Shannon Kisha ( at 12:55 am on 12/14/01. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Section: Myers


This student generated research lab dealt with images inducing emotions, specifically pictures of the September 11th attack evoking compassion. There were four collages that the students rated on the survey. There was a scale from one to eight on how much compassion was felt when viewing the collages. Our hypothesis was that the three pictures portraying the victims immediately after the attack would evoke the most compassion. Our hypothesis turned out to be correct. There is a bar chart showing the difference between these averages. There was also a comparison between Architecture majors and Western majors and if one or the other felt more compassion. There turned out to be no significant difference, the p-value being .2689.

I. Introduction-

“There is a resurgence of concern with historical memory and the need to keep alive the dark images of this century’s horror’s… (Perlman 6)” How could Hiroshima and the atom bomb be forgotten? Or Pearl Harbor? Or the Holocaust? Keeping these memories alive serves the purpose of keeping them real, “lest we, in forgetfulness, allow their continuation on a yet greater scale. (Perlman 6). For this reason, we must keep the memory of the disaster of September 11th alive. Not only will our memories allow us to prepare for more of the same, our memories will also help us find ways to prevent it from happening again. As Perlman says,

By valuing imaginal memory in it’s own right, prior to exploring it’s potential
To address this threat, we become more immediately aware of precisely this
Potential. The development of a deepened psychological sensitivity to the
Power of remembered images points toward a deepening sensitivity to the
Nuclear threat and other global dilemmas that often appear remote, abstract,
And removed from daily concerns. 7

For this reason, the research lab chosen to study deals with how visual representation of the September 11th disaster affects compassion. By presenting the disaster from several different perspectives, we hope to find the representation which provokes the deepest level of compassion. The expectation is that representations showing the victims will provoke the most compassionate response. Gender may also have an effect on the emotions the students claim, when viewing the pictures. In an article on gender stereotyping, it says that men and women differ in the “expression of emotion more than experience of emotion. (Devine, Hyde, Keltner, & Plant 81). What this means is that women are more likely to express compassion than men, but do not experience compassion differently.
Several studies have been done showing that pictures of people provoke a more emotional response than pictures of objects. In The Structure of Emotion, a study was done to identify which images provoke specific emotions with the greatest level of reliability, and the results showed that “-pictures of mutilated faces reliably elicited reports of disgust (Sheefan 61)” with a reliability level of over 90 percent. Another study focused on facial expressions and perception and found that expressions at either end of a spectrum, i.e. extremely happy, extremely sad, etc., were perceived more often than neutral expressions (Ogawa & Suzuki 293).
In any study of emotion, however, there is a degree of uncertainty. The very nature of emotions makes their definitions differ slightly from person to person. Also, this is a study of emotional response to a past event, and memories change over time. As the memories evolve, so do the emotions connected to and generated by those memories, as “-accuracy of the reconstruction will diminish as the delay since perception increase [s]. (Sheefan 85) The memory becomes less and less what was actually perceived and more and more what was emotionally perceived, until the memory reaches a point where the line between actual remembrance and imaginative remembrance is blurred and is no longer reliable.
To put it another way, perception becomes reality. The emotion defines the experience (Birbaumer & Ohman 6). This dualism can be a hindrance, however. When emotions redefine an experience two things could happen: first, one can experience “imprudent forgetfulness”, and second, one can experience “victimization. (Perlman 8) This is a problem because neither emotions nor experiences can be objectively verified. The emotions felt will color the experience, and the experience will change over time to color the emotions. In this study, the focus is on the initial reaction of the subjects viewing the images of the September 11th attack, not the current reaction.
A good example of imprudent forgetfulness can be seen in slogans such as “remember Pearl Harbor”. As Perlman says, “This sort of memory is captured in the …slogans of groups and nations… such slogans, together with idealized memories of one’s own group’s behavior in war, tell of a way of memory, which is a way of forgetting, of repression… by which the actual ambiguity of past and present events is falsified. (Perlman 8). Right now, the slogan that has come to represent the attack of September 11th is, “God Bless America.” The problem with the imprudent forgetfulness is that the fragmented memories that we have of the event assume a false guise of completeness, and we forget how little we actually know.
Perlman used the example of the Vietnam War Memorial when explaining victimization. He says, “The danger is not in the memorializing of a given nation’s dead… but in the concurrent forgetting-to-care deeply about the sufferings and dying of those in other groups. (Perlman 8)” We must be careful not to become so involved in our own issues that we forget the struggles of others. In this study, pictures of victimization will be avoided, since they will be more likely to generate feelings of anger rather than feelings of compassion.

1. Barthel, Diane. Putting On Appearances: Gender and Advertising. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1988.
2. Esrock, Ellen J. The Reader's Eye--Visual Imaging as Reader Response. Baltimore & London: John Hopkins University Press, 1994.
3. Hoffman, Martin L. Empathy and Moral Development. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
4.*Hyde, Janet Shibley. Keltner, Dacher. Plant, E. Ashby. "The Gender Stereotyping of Emotions." Psychology of Women Quarterly March 2000: 81-92.
5. Images of Memory . Ed. Susanne Kuchler & Walter Melion. Washington & London: Smithsonian Institutional Press, 1991.
6.*Perlman, Michael. Imaginal Memory and the Place of Hiroshima. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1988.
7. Portman, John. When Bad Things Happen to Other People. New York: Routledge, 2000.
8.*Ogawa, Tokihiro. Suzuki, Naoto. "Emotion Space as a Predictor of Binocular Rivalry.” Perceptual and Motor Skills February 2000: 291-298.
9. Richardson, John T.E. Mental Imagery and Human Memory. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1980.
10. *The Function and Nature of Imagery. Ed. Peter W. Sheefan. New York and London: Academic Press, 1972.
11. *The Structure of Emotion. Ed. Niels Birbaumer & Arne Ohman.Germany: Hogrefe & Huber Publishers, 1993.
12. Visual Order. Ed. N.H. Freeman & M. V. Cox. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

II. Materials and Methods-

Methods in this research lab dealt with research and surveys. The first objective was to find photographs of the terrorist attack that would evoke any type of emotion. Secondly, a decision had to be made on which type of emotion would most likely be induced. Compassion is the emotion thought to be felt most prevalently when the photographs are observed. There were four collages of photographs chosen to be displayed. There is a single picture of flight 33 flying directly into the second twin tower as an introductory photo; not a part of the study. The first collage is three pictures of different people viewing the attack. One picture has older students watching the event on TV, while the other two are of woman on the street as it is happening. The second collage is three pictures showing the victims of the attack. There are two woman injured badly, with blood all over them and the third shows a man with his clothes all ripped up, on his knees. The third collage shows three pictures of the volunteers during the crisis. There are two firefighters and a doctor sitting on a curb with office chairs wrapped in plastic behind him. These first three collages show the emotional turmoil on the people’s faces, something that a viewer will relate to and have a compassionate feeling for. The fourth category is a series of three pictures showing the gradual change of the twin towers; both standing, with the Statue of Liberty in front; in flames seconds after the attack; and finally in a pile of rubble with the American flag still waving.
The next step in the lab was to do research. Similar studies were done, so comparisons were made and put into the introduction. Changes were also made to the first idea in the research process. From this research the proposal began to take form and a survey was made. The survey has simple questions, such as “Do any of these pictures generate an emotional response?” The main idea was to have each of the four collages ranked on a scale of 1 to 8 on how much compassion was evoked. Then the collages were to be put in order from least to most compassionate feelings evoked. The collage that stimulated the most and the least compassion were to be expanded upon, asking the students to answer what stood out most in their minds about those images and if there was a specific individual picture within the collages that their compassion was directed towards. Other emotions felt were asked for as well. Finally, there was a list of initial reactions one might have directly after the September 11th attack. The students were asked to circle three of those felt.
The main idea of this lab was to have a group of 50 randomly chosen people on Western campus to observe the four collages of photographs dealing with the September 11th terrorist attack. Unfortunately only 25 were possible, but they gave sufficient results. There were two different majors surveyed; Architecture and Western. After observing the photos they had to fill out the survey. This survey told how much compassion was felt when looking at the photographs. From this information, which category of photographs induced this emotion the most was figured out. Hence, the media will know what types of emotions are evoked by such images and how they can use this information to manipulate the viewers. More specifically, the point is to make the media more aware of what they are showing and to let them know the effects. How they use the information is beside the point.

III. Results-
The results confirmed my hypothesis. The collages showing the victims induced the most compassion. To my surprise, the buildings induced the least amount of compassion, several students stating it was because they couldn’t relate to a building, but could feel the emotion on a person’s face. The blood all over the woman’s body in the last picture in the collage of the victims was the image that was remembered the most and that made the greatest impact. One student wrote that the “pain on her face” was emotional. Another student wrote “ it was if you could imagine being her.” Quite a few mentioned that the facial expressions were what “really stood out.” Quite a few more wrote how they could imagine being there, not necessarily for the second collage. Here are a few quotes that stood out: “I want to help, but I feel so small and worthless. I also feel so separated from the problem almost to the point that the bombing doesn’t seem real.”- in reference to the second collage, “The one in collage 2 with the guy on his knees and his shirt ripped; Dude that’s sad! It’s one of those pictures that makes your heart twist”, “The pictures of the students watching TV stands in my mind, most likely because that’s how I experienced it.”, “The picture of the older woman crying really struck me. I can visualize that woman being my grandmother and I want to help her in any way I can.” One comment made about the collage of the viewers was that they could see the “mental anguish on their faces.” The depression that the people were going through was mentioned a few times, especially for the workers. I noticed a compassion more for women in this study. The “bloody lady” and the “crying women” seemed to draw the students attention and emotions the most, although the workers were up there. The women were mentioned 10 times, the workers only mentioned 5 times. The other collages didn’t specify any emotions for a specific gender.
There were other emotions felt besides compassion. Quite a few wrote that they felt sad looking at the pictures, at least 7. Shock was also another emotion felt, as well as helplessness and a desire to do something.
The list of initial reactions after the attack had three dominant reactions. They are as follows: Shocked that someone would do this (16), Devastated that so many lives were lost (21) and Felt that it didn’t seem real (in denial or seemed to happen in a dream-like state) (17). What surprised me was that 4 were Accepting and 3 checked that It’s over and done; can’t change the past.
In the collage of the buildings most of the comments were about there being no emotional response, in particular compassion, because their were no people to feel sorry for. A few comments made that seemed on a more personal note are as follows: “The flag stands out, as a strength in a time of sorrow.”, “I guess my emotions for these pictures were more bittersweet, because even though these awful things happened, what the flag and the Statue of Liberty represents will always be here.”, “I also felt a feeling of pride in our nation when I looked at the Statue of Liberty.”

The bar chart shows the comparisons between the four collages on how much compassion each induced. According to the chart the second collage, which was of the victims had an average of 6.72, while the buildings had an average of 4.16, inducing the least amount of compassion. The other two, the viewers (5.88) and the helpers (6.44) were fairly close. The way I tallied this up was to add up everyone’s number and divide by 25, for each of the four collages.
In the next page of data I compared Architecture majors to Western majors. The p value turned out to be .2689, so there is no significant difference. Therefore it was due to chance alone that the two sets of data compared turned out the way they did. Yet both majors chose to rank the victims as evoking the most compassion. The Architects ranked the viewers second, where as Western ranked the helpers next.
So in all, the media can use pictures of people injured or attacked to evoke compassion to persuade an audience to follow their opinion.

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