Examining trait compassion: the associations of compassion with job characteristics, sleep, and body composition

Thesis event information

Date and time of the thesis defence

Place of the thesis defence

Linnanmaa, L10

Topic of the dissertation

Examining trait compassion: the associations of compassion with job characteristics, sleep, and body composition

Doctoral candidate

Master of Science Iina Tolonen

Faculty and unit

University of Oulu Graduate School, Faculty of Education and Psychology, Research Center for Psychology

Subject of study



Professor Anne Mäkikangas, Tampere University


Professor Mirka Hintsanen, University of Oulu

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High compassion is associated with factors indicative of well-being

Master of Science Iina Tolonen examined trait compassion and its associations with factors reflecting well-being in her doctoral dissertation. The questionnaire data for the dissertation originated from two population-based longitudinal studies: the Young Finns Study and the Northern Finland Birth Cohort 1986.

Compassion refers to the disposition to perceive others' suffering and the subsequent desire to alleviate it. Suffering can refer to a small and mundane event or a significant life-changing event.

Tolonen's doctoral research found that trait compassion is associated with various factors indicative of well-being. Compassion was examined with three factors: job characteristics, sleep, and body composition. The three studies found that high compassion in adulthood may be beneficial in all these three areas reflecting well-being. The study participants were young and middle-aged adults.

– It was observed that high compassion may act as a protective factor against straining job characteristics and sleep difficulties, Tolonen clarifies. Additionally, the results indicated that high compassion also predicted higher perceived rewards at work. Past literature has had relatively few longitudinal studies on compassion. Conversely, the doctoral dissertation investigated the association between compassion and job characteristics and sleep using over 11 years of follow-up data.

– High compassion was also cross-sectionally associated with less perceived sleep deficiency and some measures of body composition, such as smaller waist circumference, lower body fat percentage, and lower fat mass index, Tolonen says. However, these results were cross-sectional, so no conclusions can be drawn regarding causation.

The doctoral dissertation concludes that compassion as a personality trait supports and even protects factors indicative of well-being. Thus, in light of the findings of the current dissertation, the concept of "compassion fatigue" may be potentially misleading, as suggested by indications in previous research as well. It could be that individuals experiencing mild job stress or sleep difficulties may benefit from increasing compassion. However, further research is needed to confirm these assumptions. Compassion cultivation has been studied previously, and the results have been encouraging, as compassion can be increased with relatively light and short interventions.

– In the future, it would be interesting to investigate whether compassion cultivation could have a positive impact on longevity and healthy aging. Additionally, it would be intriguing to explore whether compassion could be beneficial in adolescence, Tolonen reflects.

The dissertation was conducted as part of the Compassion project led by Professor Mirka Hintsanen. The doctoral research was funded by the University of Oulu Scholarship Foundation, Päivikki and Sakari Sohlberg Foundation, Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation, and the University of Oulu Graduate School. The three dissertation publications have been published in peer-reviewed journals, including Frontiers in Psychology (job characteristics), Brain and Behavior (sleep), and Psychology & Health (body composition).
Last updated: 25.4.2024