Snapshot of Kindness

Small Acts of Kindness with Big Effects

The Greek fabulist Aesop recognized it thousands of years ago. No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted. But now we have experimental evidence to back him up. Amit Kumar and Nicholas Epley conducted a series of four experiments showing that small acts of kindness have much bigger effects than people realize.

They tell us that this matters, because undervaluing acts of kindness might be a barrier to sharing them.

Random Acts of Kindness

In their first experiment, Kumar and Epley sent MBA students out into Chicago to perform random acts of kindness. It was, to say the least, an uncontrolled experiment. But it did provide observational evidence that the people underestimated the positive impact of their kindness, compared to what the recipients of that kindness felt. In fact, recipients felt these acts of kindness were twice as big as the students did.

Moreover, the students sharing the kindness got a bonus. They found that giving kindness lifted their mood. It was a proverbial win-win.

Kumar and Epley repeated that first experiment in a more standardized way. The act of kindness was, in every case, a nice note on a card mailed to someone they knew. Again, the folks dispensing the kindness underestimated how positive it was for the people receiving it.

Stepwise through three more experiments, including randomized and controlled methods, the researchers carefully showed that random acts of kindness, even small ones, have a positive effect on both the giver and the receiver of the kindness. They summarize their conclusions, writing:

“Being more prosocial did not come at a cost to people’s own well-being; it enhanced it.

“Daily life, however, affords many opportunities for engaging in prosocial activities that people may not take. We believe our research suggests one possible reason why: that those performing random acts of kindness undervalue the positive impact they are having on recipients.”

A Personal Note

In the course of sharing words on this site every day, we have the good fortune to hear kind words back from people who read our writing. Those kind words mean a lot. One result is some good friendships with people all over the world we have yet to meet in person. We do our best to share kind words as well. Sometimes we are more successful than others.

So we have a bias for believing what Kumar and Epley have documented. In our present age of prevalent outrage, prosocial behavior is as important now as it has ever been. Let’s go for more of it.

Click here for the study by Kumar and Epley, here for further reporting on it.

Snapshot of Kindness, photograph by Nikk, licensed under CC BY 2.0

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September 4, 2022

4 Responses to “Small Acts of Kindness with Big Effects”

  1. September 04, 2022 at 8:53 am, Robyn Flipse said:

    Keep up the good work!

  2. September 04, 2022 at 9:53 am, Angie Golden said:

    Ted, this was such a great study to share with us. Once again you have made my day with something so positive. Thank you, I am proud to know you as my colleague.

  3. September 04, 2022 at 11:49 am, Christine Rosenbloom said:

    Once again, your work brings a smile to my face!

  4. September 06, 2022 at 2:19 pm, Jennifer Kucera said:

    Thank you for continuing to remind us what really matters and always from ALL angles.