The Science of Kindness

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Hello everyone! I hope you’ve been having a wonderful week. 

Today I want to talk about kindness. I don’t know why this popped into my brain, but it did, so bear with me. 
“Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.” ~ Albert Schweitzer
We all know that it’s good to be kind. We’re taught as children to be kind to others, share our toys, be nice, say “please” and “thank you,” and help our friends. Some of us have done volunteer work throughout our lives, or at the very least, helped a neighbor bring in their groceries or shovel their walk.

I really like highlighting ways to be kind to each other here on this blog. I’ve recognized that not only does being kind to people make me feel good (indeed, it makes me feel good to write this blog every week), but I’ve noticed that when one person is kind, then there is a tendency for other people to be kind, as well. And it’s not because of some weird peer pressure thing, either; it really does seem to be, well… CONTAGIOUS.

So the other night, I was sitting here wondering what I was going to write about, when a thought popped into my brain: 

“I wonder if there’s any science behind kindness being contagious?” 

So I did some poking around, and found some interesting things that I will summarize at a very high level with proper attribution to original sources so you can deep-dive the topic. Please support these scientists and writers and go read their original work, okay? 

Okay. Here goes:

Scientific American conducted a study in which they added $1 extra onto the payment for participants in the study, then gave people the opportunity to donate any portion to any number of charities. They also let the study participants see a made-up list of others’ donations, and it turns out, when they thought others were being generous, they were generous, too. (And if they thought others were stingy, they were stingy.)

Next, Scientific American wanted to find out what the empathy factor would be in these acts of charity: were they simply acts of imitation, or did people who witnessed or performed an act of charity have more compassion and empathy overall? They gave participants a seemingly-unrelated “pen pal” task, in which they read a letter from someone describing the ups and downs of their life, and then were asked to write a letter back to that person. 

Turns out, after witnessing people donate money generously, participants were friendlier and more compassionate in their letter responses to their “pen pal.”

So what is the mechanism that is happening within us, either biologically or sociologically, when witnessing others being kind? Scientists don’t fully understand that, yet, but there are some theories.

According to this article on the Good News Network, it may actually be some kind of evolutionary holdover, and there was another source that may support that. In his paper, Darwin’s Compassionate View of Human Nature, Paul Ekman, Ph.D. discusses Darwin’s telling of a story in which a little monkey tried to protect his zookeeper from a vicious baboon attack, despite the fact that the monkey was, at all other times, terrified of the baboon. Darwin theorized that when we witness suffering, we also suffer, so that in order to stop our own suffering, we will try to stop others’ suffering, too. But how does that fit in with evolution? The idea is that in order for the species to survive, inevitably one member of the species may sacrifice themselves to protect those who have a better chance of surviving. 

Additionally, the Good News Network's article discusses something called the “Helper’s High”—certain parts of the brain are lit up by witnessing or participating in acts of kindness, and certain hormones are released, as well, such as oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. To expand upon this, check out this cool infographic by Dartmouth summarizing the physiological and other effects of random acts of kindness. 

Anyway, this long summary of articles about the science of kindness is brought to you courtesy of my curious brain. 😄 I hope it was as enlightening to you as it was to me, and inspires you to do some more looking into the matter for yourself. Do go read the source material I provided, or do some Googling; there is a TON of info out there!

I wonder: does this discussion inspire you to do something kind for someone today? Let me know your thoughts, below. After all, when we are kind to others: 


...we can disrupt negativity like a boss!



base photo courtesy of Josh Appel on Unsplash


Have a great week, everyone! 🐝









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Comments

  1. A great post and great quotes!Kindness is indeed contagious, when you receive it , you want to pass to another person!

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