Well-Being Mental Health

Random acts of kindness more impactful than people realize, study finds

“The fact that you’re being nice to others adds a lot of value beyond whatever the thing is.”
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Story at a glance


  • Researchers conducted a series of experiments both in the field and in the lab to measure the attitudes of both the performer and the recipient of the kind act.

  • One experiment allowed 84 participants at a park in Chicago to decide whether to keep or give away a cup of hot chocolate. 

  • Those who gave away their cup underestimated the effecct it would have on the mood of the person who received it.

People who perform a random act of kindness often underestimate the positive effect it may have for those on the receiving end, according to a new study.  

“People aren’t way off base,” study author Amit Kumar, a professor of Marketing at UT Austin McCombs School of Business said in a media release. “They get that being kind to people makes them feel good. What we don’t get is how good it really makes others feel.” 

Researchers conducted a series of experiments both in the field and in the lab to measure the attitudes of both the performer and the recipient of the kind act. 

One experiment allowed 84 participants at a park in Chicago to decide whether to keep or give away a cup of hot chocolate. 

Researchers then gave out hot chocolate on behalf of the 75 participants who chose to give away their drinks and evaluated how it made the recipient feel. The team also gathered data from the performers, asking them to rate the recipient’s mood on a 10-point scale from negative five to positive five.  

Those on the receiving end reported an average of 3.7 in mood, while performers estimated recipients’ mood at an average of 2.7. 

“Performers are not fully taking into account that their warm acts provide value from the act itself,” Kumar said. “The fact that you’re being nice to others adds a lot of value beyond whatever the thing is.” 

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In another experiment, all participants were given a gift from the lab store, but some received their gift randomly from another participant. Then participants were asked to divide $100 between themselves and another person. Those who previously received the lab gift from another participant were more likely to divide the money more evenly. 

“It turns out generosity can actually be contagious,” Kumar said. “Receivers of a prosocial act can pay it forward. Kindness can actually spread.” 

The study was published online in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.