You Underestimate Kindness

In an overwhelming world, small acts of kindness can seem insignificant. In a world where bad things happen every day, what difference can a little action make?

As it turns out, the impact of a small act of kindness is much stronger than we think, both in terms of how it makes the recipient feel and in terms of their willingness to repay that kindness up front. In a recent study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, researchers conducted a series of experiments to test how meaningful some of these small acts of kindness are for the people who receive them, and how likely they are to pay for that kindness. forward.

The answer, it turns out, is that our good deeds have a much greater impact on others than we think. Kindness, even when it seems small and unimportant, goes a long way.

People constantly underestimate the impact of their kindness.

In the first experiment, the researchers recruited 84 people in a Chicago park and gave them the option to either get hot chocolate or give it to a stranger. Seventy-five of them decided to give the hot chocolate to someone else. The people who received the hot chocolate as a gift, when asked how they felt, said that they experienced a strong feeling of warmth and happiness. As for the givers, when asked to rate how the recipients might feel, they consistently underestimated the impact this could have.

“Performers of an act of kindness may miss the fact that simply participating in a warm, kind act can mean more to the recipients than what they give them,” said Amit Kumar , assistant professor of marketing and psychology. at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the authors of the article.

In a second experiment, the researchers tested whether receiving a cupcake as an act of kindness would make them feel happier than if they simply received the cupcake. People who received a cupcake as a sign of kindness from another reported feeling happier than if they had just received it from the researchers.

“People were again systematically underestimating how positive recipients would feel after a random act of kindness,” Kumar said. “People understand that they like cupcakes. We know that people like cupcakes and that getting a cupcake is positive, but the pattern suggests that predictors are overlooking the extra warmth that comes from accepting an act of kindness.”

People are more likely to pay for kindness up front than we think

In a third experiment, the researchers tested whether accepting an act of kindness would encourage people to pass it on. To do this, participants were given a $100 gift card and then asked to split it into another, but they were given the power to decide what the split was.

On average, people who received a gift card as an act of kindness were much more likely to repay that kindness by dividing $100 equally, as opposed to people who were simply given a gift card. “It turns out to be generosity, which can sometimes be contagious,” Kumar said. However, the people who performed the act of kindness again underestimated the impact their actions would have on the actions of others.

“These miscalibrated expectations can make a difference for givers because they create an inappropriate psychological barrier to engaging in these activities more frequently in daily life,” Kumar said. “If you knew you were making an even bigger positive impact, you would be more likely to take that action, but if you think it would only have a minor impact, you might be less likely to follow the behavior. ”


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