A conflict of values: when perceived compassion decreases trust

Matthew J. Lupoli, Min Zhang, Yidan Yin, Christopher Oveis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Compassion benefits individuals, organizations, and society. As such, people may place greater trust in those who are perceived to be compassionate, believing that they will act with both benevolence and integrity. In some circumstances, however, acting with benevolence may seemingly require a sacrifice of integrity and vice versa. We propose that expectations of how compassionate people navigate these conflicts between benevolence and integrity influence trust of compassionate individuals. In five experiments (N = 1744), we demonstrate that perceived compassion can either increase or decrease trust depending on the context. Specifically, perceived compassion decreased trust in individuals' integrity during benevolence-integrity conflicts (Experiments 2–5), but increased trust in their benevolence (Experiment 1) and integrity (Experiment 2) when these values were not in conflict. These effects were observed across several measures of trust, manipulations of perceived compassion, and experimental methods, including incentivized economic games (Experiments 1 and 2), realistic vignettes (Experiment 3), and organizational decisions (Experiments 4 and 5). Beliefs that compassionate individuals place a higher relative importance on benevolence versus integrity mediated the negative effect of perceived compassion on trust during benevolence-integrity conflicts (Experiment 5). Collectively, these results highlight a potential drawback of being seen as compassionate.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104049
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number104049
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020


  • Compassion
  • Emotion
  • Moral dilemmas
  • Social perception
  • Trust

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