Research specifically on compassionate love is needed in order to determine how best to foster this quality in people's lives, and to assess the particular impact of this quality in the care of the sick. Results from research can help to give appropriate priority to this quality in the training of healthcare providers, and in the settings and circumstances provided for those who are sick. In order to do adequate research on compassionate love, it is important to clearly articulate the various essential components, the conditions that might foster and those that might impede its expression, and to develop methodologies for assessment. There are over fifty large research projects specifically gathering data on this topic, some in healthcare settings.
Figure 1 illustrates a research model that has shown promise in this area. It starts with the substrates discussed previously. Given those starting points, as one encounters a specific person in a specific situation, one must make a decision to act (shown centrally in the figure), and a motive drives that decision. Motive is particularly hard to research, but there are some ways to begin to investigate it, such as experimental models (especially those from economics and social psychology), implicit-explicit models, observational studies with multiple actions, insightful self-report, and neural imaging. When motives for self outweigh those for others, or there is an inappropriate action given the various factors to be considered, the result is frequently negative for the person being served. Good actions can also emerge from motives not full of compassionate love, such as the motive to look good in the eyes of others or to feel needed, but ultimately the feedback of repeating these kinds of behaviors on the moral development of the healthcare provider can be detrimental. It is also possible that the more self-centered, condescending, or less respectful motive is noticed by the sick person, and care is not as effective. These kinds of motives can also adversely affect discernment of appropriate care for the sick person.
In the center of the model is both motive and discernment. Compassionate love fully expressed is not just good intentions, but doing what is really good for the other. This kind of discernment occurs continually in healthcare settings. Short-term distress may be necessary to serve the longer-term interests of a sick person. Weighing the relative
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