Compassion Fatigue: Communication and Burnout toward Social Problems

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 1996


This study establishes the construct of ''compassion fatigue'', encompassing desensitization and emotional burnout, as a phenomenon associated with pervasive communication about social problems. The study marks the first-known empirical investigation of compassion fatigue as it relates to media coverage and interpersonal communication about social problems. A telephone survey methodology was used to measure compassion fatigue among a general, adult population toward four social problems: AIDS, homelessness, violent crime, and child abuse. Results indicate the existence of a compassion fatigue phenomenon, in varying degrees of magnitude, for every issue. Compassion fatigue was found to be a situational variable, rather than a personality trait. Cognitive, affective, and behavioral manifestations of compassion fatigue are identified, and significant predictors of compassion fatigue are discussed. The findings support the existence of a mass-mediated compassion fatigue phenomenon and suggest that the nature of contemporary media coverage may contribute to emotional fatigue with society's problems.