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Author Notes:

Jennifer S. Mascaro, jmascar@emory.edu

JM, MF, MA, PP, TF, and PC conceived of the manuscript and wrote significant sections. All authors provided critical and substantive feedback and critical revisions for important intellectual content.

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.



  • compassion
  • empathy
  • altruism
  • methods
  • phenomenology
  • compassion meditation

Ways of Knowing Compassion: How Do We Come to Know, Understand, and Measure Compassion When We See It?


Journal Title:

Frontiers in Psychology


Volume 11


Type of Work:

Article | Final Publisher PDF


Over the last decade, empirical research on compassion has burgeoned in the biomedical, clinical, translational, and foundational sciences. Increasingly sophisticated understandings and measures of compassion continue to emerge from the abundance of multidisciplinary and cross-disciplinary studies. Naturally, the diversity of research methods and theoretical frameworks employed presents a significant challenge to consensus and synthesis of this knowledge. To bring the empirical findings of separate and sometimes siloed disciplines into conversation with one another requires an examination of their disparate assumptions about what compassion is and how it can be known. Here, we present an integrated theoretical review of methodologies used in the empirical study of compassion. Our goal is to highlight the distinguishing features of each of these ways of knowing compassion, as well as the strengths and limitations of applying them to specific research questions. We hope this will provide useful tools for selecting methods that are tailored to explicit objectives (methods matching), taking advantage of methodological complementarity across disciplines (methods mixing), and incorporating the empirical study of compassion into fields in which it may be missing.

Copyright information:

© 2020 Mascaro, Florian, Ash, Palmer, Frazier, Condon and Raison.

This is an Open Access work distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
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