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Psychology, Sustainability, Uncategorized

Underestimating random acts of kindness

What was the last random act of kindness you were involved in? Was it something you did for someone else or something someone else did for you? Have you ever wondered how much that random act was appreciated?

Based on new research by Kumar and Epley (2022), we tend to underestimate the positive impact our random act of kindness has on its recipient. Whether they happened in a lab or in real life, the giver underestimated how positive their recipient would feel.

So why does this matter? It appears, from the research, that we are less likely to perform random acts of kindness if we underestimate the response. Basically, if you think the act will be perceived as no big deal then you are less likely to do it. As a result, people do less pro-social behaviours. This has the potential to reduce social relationships and well-being.

Okay, with my sustainability brain on I wonder what the implications of this could be. If I believe that taking actions like reducing my meat intake, carrying reusable bags, or taking public transit aren’t for my benefit but for the benefit of others including future generations then do they fall into the same category as random acts of kindness? Will I assume that others won’t actually value those acts and their global consequences?

This is just me thinking, but it seems pretty apparent that we have some barriers to taking actions that don’t give us immediate benefits. But if we thought that others might value those acts, would we be more willing to do it?

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


2 thoughts on “Underestimating random acts of kindness

  1. This would seem to suggest our culture struggles with the concept of altruism. Wondering why this is might lead to some pretty interesting realizations about the priorities we are conditioned to strive for. I like that you tie this to trying to help our environment, because we see how the wrong priorities are hamstringing our collective response to a global crisis.
    I think random acts of kindness generate a bond of mutual benefit, and I believe this bond is more important than the act that generates it. I feel like this is the point of altruism, and I feel like our culture (and climate) would be healthier if more people were taught to value this. Instead, we prioritize immediate gain; and many see the reward of altruism, personally benefiting by the good feeling we derive from it, as an “ulterior motive” and are thus demotivated. So yes, I have no difficulties with saying I believe your motives for helping our environment more than qualify as acts of kindness and / our altruism.
    Thank you for this food for thought!


    Posted by nimbusindomitus | August 23, 2022, 2:11 pm

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