Scientific Impact of Kindness pt. 1

When we witness an act of kindness or human goodness, it often triggers something within us. Some of us get emotional, others get elated, and it all points to not just witnessing the act of kindness but also recognizing that it is an act of kindness. Scientists have even gone ahead to describe these acts as moral beauty or profound virtue. They have even described this feeling as a high, or an emotional state, a moral elevation. 

Previous studies on the contagiousness of kindness have shown that moral elevation profoundly impacts optimism[1]. It inspires people to be better versions of themselves, and it encourages them to also act selflessly towards others. The science behind it proves why kindness is important and why everyone, particularly parents, ought to show kindness to their children or their students.

It inspires people to be better versions of themselves, and it encourages them to also act selflessly towards others.

ELEVATION

Elevation or moral elevation is described as a warm, uplifting feeling that individuals may experience when they witness an unexpected act of courage, compassion, human goodness, or kindness[2]. It is the feeling that makes that individual want to help others or to become a better person at the end of the day. This mostly stems from the balance associated with morality[3]. Innately, no one wants to steal, harm or kill others. Instead, they want to treat others well and have a moral community where people treat each other as they are supposed to[4]. The simple act of witnessing a stranger do a good deed to another stranger assures people that maybe they could be living in a world where people care for each other, and it pushes them to be better.

STUDIES ON ELEVATION

A study was conducted on a group of students. It involved having them write in detail about five different situations that they felt seemed likely to produce various positive emotions that included elevation and happiness. The study involved asking specific questions regarding their thoughts, actions, bodily changes, and motivations in different situations. This question’s goal was to prompt the students to share their elevation experiences, all while highlighting why kindness can be contagious.

One of the students’ most cited circumstances involved witnessing a stranger give aid to another person who was sick, poor, or stranded in a helpless situation. From the study, many participants noted that when they witnessed unexpected acts of kindness, they became stunned, surprised, and emotionally moved. Deep down, however, they were solely changing their views about humanity more optimistically, all while triggering higher goals for themselves. When asked if the feelings gave them any inclination towards doing something kind, the students noted that they became more inclined to help others and become better individuals. 

THE SCIENCE BEHIND ELEVATION

From the simple study above, there was a clear connection between witnessing an act of kindness and the inclination to be kind. However, it does little to highlight the science behind it. In a study conducted by Piper, Saslow, and Saturn (2015), it was noted that elevation involved both sympathetic and parasympathetic activation. 

The study involved monitoring the subjects’ heart rates, their medial prefrontal cortex, along with their respiratory sinus arrhythmia. From this study, it was noted that both social engagement and arousal are required for there to be elevation. On top of that, it noted that the induction of moral elevation brings with it a relatively uncommon autonomic and neural patterns that also happens to be consistent with allostasis, more specifically, socioemotional-induced allostasis. 

To better understand this relationship, one should understand what allostasis is. In psychology, it refers to the process that goes into maintaining homeostasis, mainly through the adaptive change of the organism’s internal environment, all in a bid to meet anticipated and perceived demands. Homeostasis is the equilibrium between interdependent elements, particularly as maintained by various psychological processes. In summary, witnessing a random act of human good, or kindness triggers a chemical reaction within a person’s brain. Consequently, this reaction prompts one to become a better person, thereby increasing their likelihood of replicating that kindness to someone else or changing their way of living to ensure that they contribute to a greater good.

WHY IS KINDNESS IMPORTANT

As seen from the discussions above, the simple act of witnessing kindness is enough to change a person’s life. This applies to both children and adults, which is why you, as a parent, ought to show kindness towards, and around your kids. They are always observing, always looking at what you are doing. Witnessing an act of kindness will allow them to pick up such traits and implement them into their lives. In short, they will grow up with a deeper understanding of kindness, the importance of kindness, and what it takes to be kind. As a parent, you are your child’s first role model. He or she looks up to you and anything that you do, they will take it up, adopt it, and implement it in their lives. As such, you need to be on your best behavior. 

Be kind, be understanding. Other people might also be looking, not just your kids, and you could be making the world a better place without you knowing.

REFERENCES

1 Hamilton, D. (2011). David R Hamilton PhD | How Kindness is ContagiousDavid R Hamilton PhD. Retrieved 23 January 2021, from https://drdavidhamilton.com/how-kindness-is-contagious/ 

2 Cedars-Sinai Staff. (2019). The Science Behind Random Acts of Kindness | Cedars-Sinai. Retrieved 23 January 2021, from https://www.cedars-sinai.org/blog/science-of-kindness.html 

3 Suttie, J. (2015). How Our Bodies React to Seeing Goodness. Retrieved 23 January 2021, from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_our_bodies_react_human_goodness 

4 Haidt, J. (2005). Wired to be Inspired. Retrieved 23 January 2021, from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/wired_to_be_inspired 

5 Haidt, J. (2005). Wired to be Inspired. Retrieved 23 January 2021, from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/wired_to_be_inspired 

6 Haidt, J. (2005). Wired to be Inspired. Retrieved 23 January 2021, from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/wired_to_be_inspired 

7 Piper, W. T., Saslow, L. R., & Saturn, S. R. (2015). Autonomic and prefrontal events during moral elevation. Biological psychology108, 51-55.

8 Piper, W. T., Saslow, L. R., & Saturn, S. R. (2015). Autonomic and prefrontal events during moral elevation. Biological psychology108, 51-55.

9 Cedars-Sinai Staff. (2019). The Science Behind Random Acts of Kindness | Cedars-Sinai. Retrieved 23 January 2021, from https://www.cedars-sinai.org/blog/science-of-kindness.html 

1Piper, W. T., Saslow, L. R., & Saturn, S. R. (2015). Autonomic and prefrontal events during moral elevation. Biological psychology108, 51-55.

1Edwards, J. (2020). Kindness is Contagious — Space to Breathe. Retrieved 23 January 2021, from https://spacetobreatheuk.com/stories/2020/2/13/kindness-is-contagious 

1Gregoire, C. (2015). Why Kindness Is Contagious, According To Science. Retrieved 23 January 2021, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/kindness-contagious-psych_n_7292862#:~:text=Seeing%20someone%20perform%20an%20act%20of%20kindness%20can%20warm%20your%20heart.&text=The%20feeling%20helps%20to%20explain,behave%20more%20altruistically%20towards%20others. 


About the Author

Brian Williams

Brian is considered one of the nations Top Youth Speakers. He's spoken to over 1,000,000 students across the country, is a 4th degree black belt, has collected over 500,000 pairs of shoes for children around the world and has traveled to Africa 14 times. He is also the author of Kindness Ninja, a children's book the inspires kids to carry-out ninja-style acts of kindness. You can follow Brian on INSTAGRAM at @Kindness.Nation.

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