Kindness is on everyone’s minds nowadays, but there’s still a lot we don’t know about kindness from a scientific perspective. What drives people to be kind to complete strangers, at a cost to themselves, and then feel good about it?
While we do understand some things, like being kind can significantly improve your mood and being kind to others can encourage them to “pay it forward,” it’s what we don’t know about kindness that drives future research.
Here, we’ll break down what we do and don’t know about kindness. And also share news about a new study coming out in 2022 that could help give us a better picture of what kindness means in an ever-changing world.
What We Do Know about Kindness
Being Kind Feels Good
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s a good topic. Why does being kind to strangers give the same amount of dopamine as eating delicious food or getting a surprise?
In an experiment done in Vancouver, Canada, participants walking down the street were given $5 or $20 to spend on either themselves or someone else.
Later, the researchers called them and asked about their mood, and the people who spent the money on others were significantly happier than those who used the money on themselves.
Being kind to others can give you a significant mood boost for the rest of the day, so this New Year, maybe resolve to do one good deed a day to improve your mood and the world.
What Goes Around, Comes Around
Being kind to others can cause them to be kind to others, perpetuating the cycle of kindness. In a study done by Monica Bartlett, professor and department chair of psychology at Gonzaga University, she showed that feelings of gratitude can encourage people to help others, even at cost to themselves.
However, the same goes for greed. A later study showed that acts of greed encouraged others to respond in kind, perpetuating the cycle. Being kind begets kind actions while being unkind and greedy encourages others to act the same way.
So, the next time someone is unkind to you, make a conscious decision to break that cycle and be kind to someone else.
The Cure for Anxiousness: Kindness
Social anxiety is common nowadays, but one way to put yourself out there and help overcome anxiety is to be kind to others.
A 2015 study showed that doing kind acts for others decreased students’ social anxiety, likely because these social exchanges were positive. These positive social interactions can help you feel less anxious when interacting with others overall.
Being kind to others can help your mental well-being and encourage you to interact with the people around you.
Children and Toddlers: Kindness Regardless of Age
Toddlers and children can be incredibly selfish sometimes. Whether it’s in the toy aisle of the grocery store or refusing to share their favorite snack, children frequently act selfishly and think only of themselves.
However, the opposite can also be true, and children can be incredibly kind towards others. In one study, a researcher hangs up the laundry and runs out of pegs. Nearby, a toddler is given a box and opens it up to find either a peg or a toy. Body language showed that toddlers were just as pleased to find a peg to help the researchers as they were the toy.
This shows that toddlers and children are just as pleased to help someone else as they were to help themselves.
What We Don’t Know about Kindness … Yet
Even though many studies have been carried out, there is still a lot we don’t know about the science of kindness, and scientists all over the world are committed to answering these questions.
What Are the Most Common Kind Acts People Carry Out?
When are we most kind and what do we like to do for others? Is it picking up a dropped item? Giving to charity? Or something else entirely?
And who are we kindest to? Are we kindest to people like ourselves, those in need, or family members?
Where Do We Most Often Experience Kindness?
Do people experience kindness more out in the world or at home? This question will need an enormous sample size to answer.
How Is Kindness Viewed at Work?
Is being kind seen as a weakness in the workplace, or does it lead to better relations with coworkers and customers alike?
What Prevents Us from Being Kind?
This is one of the biggest unknowns about kindness. Why aren’t people kind all the time if kindness leads to so many benefits for everybody?
The Kindness Test
One of the new kindness studies is coming out in 2022 and is a collaboration between the University of Sussex and the BBC. They managed to reach a large sample size, and hopefully, it can help answer some of the questions still left.One of their early findings shows us the most common words associated with kindness, such as empathy and care.
Another question asked whether people thought the world was kinder, less kind, or the same as when they were younger.
This test can prove some of our inherent biases about kindness and how we perceived the world when we were younger vs when we grew up.
The test is closed for participation, and researchers are busy compiling the data for a release in early 2022.
Ultimately, our questions about kindness may never be answered, as kindness is a quality that can be hard to quantify. But in the future, perhaps we can get a complete understanding of kindness so we can encourage it all around.
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