Sep 7, 2022 - Science

The outsized power of small acts of kindness

Illustration of a lightbulb with a filament lit in the shape of a smiley face

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Small and simple, kind gestures have immense, underestimated power.

  • Why it matters: When it comes to doing nice things for others, a little goes a long way. That should encourage all of us to put in that bit of extra effort to make someone smile.

🖼️ The big picture: Researchers demonstrated the power of small acts of kindness in a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

  • The researchers conducted a series of experiments with different acts of kindness — such as offering someone a ride home or covering the cost of someone's cup of coffee.
  • In one experiment, study participants at an ice skating rink in Chicago on a cold winter day gave other skaters hot chocolate for free. Then both parties were asked to rate how much the gesture was worth.
  • The givers consistently undervalued how much the hot cocoa meant to the recipients.

Flashback: Another recent paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, came to a similar conclusion about human behavior and showed that we underestimate the power of reaching out to friends, family and colleagues.

🧠 Between the lines: That we routinely misjudge the impact of our actions matters for our behavior, Amit Kumar, a psychology professor at UT Austin and one of the authors of the Journal of Experimental Psychology study, told the New York Times.

  • "Not knowing one's positive impact can stand in the way of people engaging in these sorts of acts of kindness in daily life."

The bottom line: When in doubt, make the phone call, offer up the last chocolate chip cookie or let the stressed-out person cut in line. It means a lot more than you think.

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