You’re Underestimating Kindness

Image for article titled You're Underestimating Kindness

Photo: Koldunov (Shutterstock)

In an overwhelming world, small acts of kindness can seem to have little meaning. In a world where bad things are happening every day, how much can a small action matter, anyway?

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

The answer, as it turns out, is that our acts of kindness have a far bigger impact on others than we realize. Kindness, even when it seems small and unimportant, matters a lot.

People consistently underestimate the impact of their kindness

In the first experiment, researchers recruited 84 people at a park in Chicago, and gave them the option of either receiving a hot chocolate or gifting that hot chocolate to a stranger. Seventy-five of them thing to give the hot chocolate to another. For the people who received the hot chocolate as a gift, when asked how that made them feel, they reported a high sense of warmth and happiness. For the givers, when asked to rate how the recipients might feel, they consistently underestimated the impact it would have.

“Performers of an act of kindness can miss out on the fact that simply engaging in a warm, kind act can be meaningful for recipients beyond whatever it is that they are giving to them,” said Amit Kumaran assistant professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, and one of the authors of the paper.

For the second experiment, researchers tested out whether receiving a cupcake as an act of kindness would make them feel happier than if they simply received a cupcake. The people who received a cupcake as an act of kindness from another reported feeling happier than if they had simply gotten one from the researchers.

“People again systematically underestimated how positive recipients would feel after a random act of kindness,” Kumar said. “People understand that folks like cupcakes. We know that cupcakes are things people like, and that getting a cupcake is positive, but a pattern suggests that what predictors are missing is this additional warmth that comes from being on the receiving end of an act of kindness.”

People are more likely to pay kindness forward than we realize

In the third experiment, researchers tested whether being on the receiving end of an act of kindness would motivate people to pass it on. To do that, participants were given a $100 gift card and then asked to split it with another, but given discretion on what that split was.

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

“These mis-calibrated expectations, they can matter for the givers, because they create a misplaced psychological barrier to engaging in these actions more often in daily life,” Kumar said. “If you knew that you were making an even more positive impact, you’d be more likely to do this action, but if you think it will make only a little bit of impact, perhaps you’re less likely to pursue this behavior. ”

.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.