The benefits of kindness

Be kind to others; it’s good for you and for them. “Doing good is, in fact, good for you.” There have been many supporting studies. Kindness of different kinds has “been related to increased life satisfaction, decreased depression, lower blood pressure”, a longer life, and more. Both the givers and the receivers of kindness see the benefits.

Quick bibliography: Recent research about the benefits of kindness.

Blakey, K. H., Mason, E., Cristea, M., McGuigan, N., & Messer, E. J. E. (2019). Does kindness always pay? the influence of recipient affection and generosity on young children’s allocation decisions in a resource distribution task. Current Psychology: A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues, 38(4), 939-949. [PDF]

“The aim of the current study was to determine whether the level of generosity shown by 3- to 8-year-old children (N = 136; M age = 69 months) in a resource distribution task would vary according to whether the recipient had previously displayed kind (affection and generosity) and/or non-kind (non-affection and non-generosity) behavior towards a third party. We first asked whether donor children would show higher levels of generosity towards an affectionate than a non-affectionate recipient (condition 1), and a generous than a non-generous recipient (condition 2), before pitting the two forms of recipient kindness directly against each other (condition 3). Last, we asked whether donations to generous recipients would decrease if the recipient simultaneously displayed non-kind behavior through a lack of affection (condition 4). Here we show that children allocated a greater share of the available resource to generous and affectionate recipients than non-generous and non-affectionate recipients respectively. However, when asked to divide resources between a generous and an affectionate recipient, or two recipients who had each displayed a combination of kind and non-kind behavior, children allocated each recipient an equal share of the resource. These findings suggest that children donate selectively based on previous information regarding recipient generosity and affection, however when both forms of kindness are pitted directly against each other, children strive for equality, suggesting that kindness engenders donor generosity irrespective of the form of kindness previously displayed.”

Neubaum, G., Krämer, N. C., & Alt, K. (2020). Psychological effects of repeated exposure to elevating entertainment: An experiment over the period of 6 weeks. Psychology of Popular Media, 9(2), 194-207.

“Nonhedonic responses to entertaining media offerings have recently attracted an extensive line of research investigating which stimuli can lead to which kind of experiences. Long-term investigations on the effects of cumulative exposure to entertaining media over time, however, remain the exception. Building on the theoretical concept of elevation and the notion that observing acts of human kindness can increase people’s prosocial motivation, well-being, and affiliative intentions, the present study examined whether these effects are sustainable after prolonged exposure to elevating media material. In an experiment (N = 93), subjects were repeatedly exposed to either (a) elevating, (b) violent, or (c) neutral video stimuli over the period of 6 weeks. Results showed that prolonged exposure to elevating videos does not have direct enduring effects on viewers’ psychological flourishing and willingness to interact with stereotyped groups. Nevertheless, repeatedly viewing acts of human kindness in online videos can indirectly increase prosocial motivation and improve recipients’ conceptions of human beings—mediated through the sense of elevation.”

Pressman, S. D., Kraft, T. L., & Cross, M. P. (2015). It’s good to do good and receive good: The impact of a ‘pay it forward’ style kindness intervention on giver and receiver well-being. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(4), 293-302. [Cited by]

“Despite the popularity of the ‘pay it forward’ (PIF) concept in textbooks and popular culture, to date, no study has tested the effectiveness of a brief, one-time PIF activity on the well-being of those who do good and those who receive good. To test this, 83 undergraduates (‘givers’) performed random kind acts for 1.5 h. PIF resulted in a wide range of well-being benefits for givers (e.g. greater positive and lower negative affect), with females showing greater positive affect benefits. Receivers of kindness (N = 1014) also benefited as evidenced by greater smiling behavior and more sincere smiles vs. controls (N = 251). Of the 48 receivers who completed a follow-up online questionnaire, the majority indicated that they would also PIF, with almost 40% indicating that they already had. Results indicate that a one-time brief PIF intervention can have broad benefits for those involved.”

Rowland, L., & Curry, O. S. (2019). A range of kindness activities boost happiness. The Journal of Social Psychology, 159(3), 340-343. [Cited by]

“This experiment investigates the effects of a seven-day kindness activities intervention on changes in subjective happiness. The study was designed to test whether performing different types of kindness activities had differential effects on happiness. Our recent systematic review and meta-analysis of the psychological effects of kindness (Curry, et al. 2018) revealed that performing acts of kindness boosts happiness and well-being. However, we noted in that review that rarely had researchers specifically compared the effects of kindness to different recipients, such as to friends or to strangers. Thus in a single factorial design (n=683) we compare acts of kindness to strong social ties, weak social ties, novel acts of self kindness, and observing acts of kindness, against a no acts control group. The results indicate that performing kindness activities for seven days increases happiness. In addition, we report a positive correlation between the number of kind acts and increases in happiness. Neither effect differed across the experimental groups, suggesting that kindness to strong ties, to weak ties, and to self, as well as observing acts of kindness, have equally positive effects on happiness.

Shin, L. J., Layous, K., Choi, I., Na, S., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2019). Good for self or good for others? The well-being benefits of kindness in two cultures depend on how the kindness is framed. The Journal of Positive Psychology. [PDF] [Cited by]

In light of cultural differences in conceptions of happiness, we investigated whether members of independent (vs. interdependent) cultures would benefit from prosocial behavior when self-focus is highlighted (vs. when other-focus is highlighted). In a 1-week randomized controlled intervention, U.S. (N = 280) and South Korean (N = 261) participants were randomly assigned to read a news article that described kind acts as good for oneself or good for others, or to read a control article. All participants then performed kind acts throughout the week, and completed pre- and post- measures of subjective well-being, connectedness, competence, and autonomy. Consistent with independent self-construals, U.S. participants who read that kindness was good for themselves showed greater increases in positive affect, satisfaction with life, and feelings of connectedness – and greater decreases in negative affect – than those who read the control article. Future research is needed to continue developing culturally-sensitive designs of positive activities.”

For additional research about kindness, please see the Science Primary Literature Database.

Questions?  Please let me know (engelk@grinnell.edu).

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