Helping one or helping many? A theoretical integration and meta-analytic review of the compassion fade literature

Marcus M. Butts, Devin C. Lunt, Traci L. Freling, Allison S. Gabriel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Researchers and practitioners in the area of charitable giving have long lamented the tendency to offer greater aid to one person who is suffering rather than to a large group with the same needs. Demonstrations of such compassion fade are common in the literature, although different explanations for these findings exist. To reconcile both past theory and empirical research, we utilized a dual concern framing (De Dreu, 2006; Pruitt & Rubin, 1985) in conducting a meta-analysis of 41 studies (95 independent samples; 13,259 total sample size) on compassion fade. Results suggest that victim group size negatively affects both helping intent and helping behavior, as well as our proposed mediating mechanisms of anticipated positive affect (self-oriented motivation) and perceived impact (hybrid other-/self-oriented motivation). However, significant effects were not found for empathetic concern (other-oriented motivation). Results also showed that the indirect effects of victim group size on helping are stronger through anticipated positive affect and perceived impact than through empathetic concern. Further, as indicated by supplemental analyses, anticipated positive affect and perceived impact likely operate as predictors of empathetic concern in a serial mediation process through which victim groups size affects helping. Finally, we examined calamity scope (number of victims) and event features (certainty, chronicity, and threat severity) as moderators of the observed relationships between victim group size and helping. Theoretical implications and directions for future compassion fade research emanating from these findings are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)16-33
Number of pages18
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
StatePublished - Mar 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Compassion collapse
  • Compassion fade
  • Compassion fatigue
  • Helping
  • Meta-analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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