Scientists who study happiness know that being kind to others can improve well-being. As easy as buying someone a cup of coffee elevate one’s mood, E.g. Everyday life offers many opportunities for this behavior, but people don’t always take advantage of them.
In a group of studies published online Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Nick Epley, a behavioral scientist at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, and I investigated a possible explanation.We found that people who performed random acts of kindness not always aware How much influence they have on another person. People systematically underestimate other people’s evaluation of these behaviors.
In multiple experiments involving about 1,000 participants, people performed random acts of kindness — that is, they did so primarily to make others (who were not expecting the gesture) feel good. People who engage in this behavior do not expect anything in return.
Specific acts of kindness vary from one program to another. For example, in one experiment, people wrote notes to friends and family “just because.” On the other hand, they give away cupcakes. In these experiments, we asked people who performed acts of kindness and those who received them to fill out questionnaires. We asked do-gooders to report their own experiences and predict their recipients’ responses. We want to understand how valuable people think these actions are, so both the performer and receiver must rate how “big” the actions seem. In some cases, we also asked about actual or perceived costs in time, money, or effort.In all cases, we compared the performer’s expectation of the receiver’s mood to the receiver’s mood actual experience.
In our survey, several robust patterns emerged. On the one hand, both performers and recipients of acts of kindness had more positive emotions than usual after these exchanges. On the other hand, it’s clear that the performers underestimated their impact: the recipients feel much better than the well-meaning actors expected. Recipients also reliably rated the behaviors as “bigger” than the people who performed them.
We initially looked at acts of kindness performed on familiar people such as friends, classmates or family members. But we found that participants also underestimated their positive influence on strangers. In one experiment, participants gave away hot chocolate at a park ice rink on a cold winter day. Again, the experience was more positive than the giver expected for the recipient, who happened to be nearby. While the act was considered relatively inconsequential by the person giving the hot chocolate, it was important to the recipient.
Our research also reveals one reason why people may underestimate the impact of their actions. For example, when we asked a group of participants to estimate that someone would want a cupcake simply because they participated in a study, their predictions were well calibrated with the recipients’ responses. But when people received cupcakes as a random act of kindness, the cupcake giver underestimated the recipient’s positive feelings.Recipients of these unexpected behaviors are often more concerned warmth than performers do.
Our work shows that simply engaging in positive, pro-social interactions can be more meaningful than anything a person receives.People know cupcakes really do make people feel good, but it turns out that cupcakes given with kindness can make them feel good surprisingly OK. When someone is thinking primarily about the delicious treat they’re gifting, they may not realize that the warmth of that gesture is an added ingredient that sweetens the cupcake.
Ignoring the importance of warmth can get in the way of being more kind in everyday life. People often want to do acts of kindness – in fact, many of our participants said they would like to do it more often. But our data suggest that underestimating the impact of a person’s actions may reduce the likelihood of goodwill. If people underestimate the impact, they may not bother with these warm, pro-social behaviors.
Moreover, the consequences of these actions can extend beyond the single recipient: goodwill is contagious. In another experiment, we had people play an economic game that allowed us to test what is sometimes called a “pay it forward” effect. In this game, participants divide money between themselves and a person they will never meet. People who had just received a good deed donated significantly more to Anonymous than those who hadn’t. At the same time, those who perform the initial behavior are unaware that their generosity spills over in these downstream interactions.
These findings suggest that when we decide whether to do something nice for someone else, seemingly small things can mean a lot to the people we serve. Since these warm gestures can lift our own mood and brighten another person’s day, why don’t we choose to be kind?
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