Stories of Kindness from Around the World

Scientific Research on Kindness

--by Smile Team, posted Jun 27, 2007
Heather asks, "A friend mentioned to me that research shows that a certain number of acts of kindess a week "sticks"--creates the positive habit. Do you know of this, or similar, research?"

So we thought we'd compile some useful resources for Heather and the rest of you, thanks to our friends at DailyGood.

  • Altruism: a Neural Kick from Within: What motivates people to act anonymously kind? Researchers at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland, wanted to find exactly that -- the neural basis for unselfish acts. So they decided to peek into the brains of 19 volunteers who were choosing whether to give money to charity, or keep it for themselves. They found that the part of the brain that was active when a person donated happened to be the brain's reward center -- the mesolimbic pathway -- responsible for doling out the dopamine-mediated euphoria associated with things like money and food. But there is more to altruism: not only does it feel good, it promotes trust. Donating also engaged the part of the brain that plays a role in the bonding behavior between mother and child, involving oxytocin, a hormone that increases trust and co-operation. [More from The Economist]
  • Wired To Be Inspired: Most theories in social sciences say that people's actions and feelings are motivated by self-interest. So here's a puzzle: why do we care when a stranger does a good deed for another stranger? Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has been pondering this question for years. Haidt uses the phrase "elevation" to describe the warm, uplifting feeling that people experience when they see unexpected acts of human goodness, kindness or courage -- and the power of this feeling to inspire widespread compassion. Examples of elevation exist across cultures and historical eras. While psychology has traditionally focused its energy on studying the origin and impact of negative moral emotions such as guilt and anger, Haidt's work seeks to look scientifically at the compelling effects of goodness. [From UC Berkeley's 'Wired To Be Inspired?' paper]
  • Beyond Human Altruism: Altruism may be far more widespread than had been realized. A new study shows that chimpanzees are capable of helping others without any thought of personal reward, demonstrating that young chimpanzees spontaneously and repeatedly helped humans who appeared to be struggling to reach sticks within the animals' enclosure. Elsewhere in the animal world there are many examples of apparent altruism. Dolphins, for example, will support sick or injured animals, swimming under them for hours at a time and pushing them to the surface so they can breathe. However, such examples feature social animals where the "altruistic" individuals help their kin, which is relatively easy to explain in terms of ensuring the survival of the genes that both share. It's much harder to explain altruism when unrelated individuals help each other -- and hardest of all when it is between species. [From this Times of India Article]
  • Why Do Good? Why do people do good? A new scientific study suggests that it's not just for an emotional reward: people may actually act selflessly because they're acutely tuned into the needs and actions of others. For decades, psychologists and neuroscientists have puzzled over the tendency of humans to engage in altruistic acts -- defined as acts "that intentionally benefit another organism, incur no direct personal benefit, and sometimes bear a personal cost." The bottom line, says Duke University professor Scott Huettel, is that altruism may rely on a basic understanding that others have motivations and actions that may be similar to our own. "It's not exactly empathy," he says, but something more primitive. [More from CBC Canada]
  • Altruism and the Young: Oops, the scientist dropped his clothespin. Not to worry — a wobbly toddler raced to help, eagerly handing it back. The simple experiment shows the capacity for altruism emerges as early as 18 months of age.  Toddlers' endearing desire to help out actually signals fairly sophisticated brain development, and is a trait of interest to anthropologists trying to tease out the evolutionary roots of altruism and cooperation. [More from SF Chronicle]
  • Generosity -- A Strategy for Survival: Helena Cronin, 64, philosopher, social scientist, and Co-Director of the Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science at the London School of Economics, has a different take on the survival of the fittest: "Look carefully at nature, and you will find that it doesn't always seem short, brutish, and savage. Animals are strikingly unselfish.” Cronin offers a way of coping with shared adversity, a new school of competitive thinking based on the notion of an unselfish gene. Her ideas are a more challenging line of thought and a more accurate reflection of how the world works than the view popularized by Intel's Andy Grove that "only the paranoid survive." Cronin's version of Darwinism instead talks about "pronoia" -- the idea that altruism and generosity create more rewards than their opposites do. [More from Fast Company]
So scientists are in on it.  Kindness is good, contagious and well worth our time. :)
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Readers Comments

SR wrote: Altruism is not linked to any religion. It is more ancient than christianity or any religion.
arse wrote: I am a servant of God. I believe in God and the Holy Bible as the Word of God and it is the truth. God created man in His image - image of holiness and righteousness. God is loving, kind, merciful, generous to all - that is including the evil and ungrateful, compassionate, righteous and just. He breathed His spirit into the face of that which He molded from earth which became a living psyche and that's Adam. We all have that spirit in us and therefore, however bad a person is according to the standards of man, I still believe that in him are the attributes of God and he will do good even just at random. And if perchance he finds the right way, he'd be like Christ - a Christian.
lovebug wrote: My oldest grandson is autistic. I have to admit when I started to read the comments, I was confused by the word altruism, so I looked it up in my dictionary. I also looked with interest and your use of the word elevation. That is my definition of evolution. I have been tired for a long time now. This debate over creation and evolution has whore me out. But now I have lived long enough to hear the words intelligent design. I have to thank God he allowed me enough time to experience common sense. I might not be well educated and can't spell, but all I had to do was read the bible once to find out, we are all created in God's image. Why is that so difficult to understand
bibirose wrote: Lovebug,your words are so true to be honest I am overwhelmed by the faith of those who believe in evolution & not the Creator-God. Besides Jesus being His Greatest Gift, free will is a close 2nd.
Why are we kind to one another without thought of reward simple, we are made in God's image & he's supernaturally loving & kind. And it's my desire to be like my big brother Jesus every day. shalom shalom.

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