Is It Good To Be Good? Dispositional Compassion and Health Behaviors

Ann Behav Med. 2019 Jun 4;53(7):665-673. doi: 10.1093/abm/kay075.


Background: Despite the documented importance of dispositional compassions for a range of health-related outcomes, its role in predicting health behaviors remains unclear.

Purpose: This study examined the associations between dispositional compassion and three domains of health behavior, including physical activity, alcohol use, and smoking.

Methods: The participants (N = 1,279-1,913) were from the Finnish population-based Young Finns study. We collected self-reports of compassion in 1997 and 2011 and health behaviors in 2001, 2007, and 2011. In addition, an objective pedometer measure of physical activity was collected in 2011. Linear and logistic regression models were fitted to estimate the cross-sectional and longitudinal associations between compassion and the health behavior outcomes.

Results: In a cross-sectional analysis, compassion was associated with having never smoked and a reduced likelihood of at-risk alcohol use and binge drinking. There was no robust association between compassion and physical activity. In longitudinal analyses over a 14-year period, the associations remained for at-risk alcohol use and binge drinking.

Conclusions: Dispositional compassion may have a protective effect against unhealthy behaviors, especially excessive alcohol consumption.

Keywords: Alcohol consumption; Compassion; Health behaviors; Physical activity; Smoking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / physiopathology*
  • Binge Drinking / physiopathology
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Empathy / physiology*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Female
  • Finland
  • Health Behavior / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personality / physiology*
  • Smoking / physiopathology*
  • Young Adult