Random acts of kindness cause bigger buzz

Austin, TX — According to The University of Texas at Austin.

Research conducted by Amit Kumar, assistant professor of marketing at the UT Austin McCombs School of Business, and Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago found that while givers tend to focus on what they’re offering or the action they’re performing, takers instead focus on what’s warm. Sensibly, acts of kindness are reminiscent of. This means that the giver’s “misaligned expectations” can become a barrier to performing more prosocial behaviors such as helping, sharing, or donating.

The study is online in advance Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

To quantify these attitudes and behaviors, the researchers conducted a series of experiments.

For one study, researchers recruited 84 participants in Chicago’s Maggie Daley Park. Participants can choose whether to give a cup of hot chocolate to a stranger from a food kiosk in the park or keep it for themselves. Seventy-five agreed to give up.

The researchers handed hot chocolate to strangers and told them that the study participants chose to serve them the drink. Recipients reported their mood, and performers expressed what they thought the recipient was feeling after drinking.

Performers underestimate the importance of their performances. They expected recipients’ sentiment to average 2.7, ranging from -5 (more negative than normal) to 5 (more positive than normal), while recipients reported an average of 3.5.

“People didn’t leave the base,” Kumar said. “They know that being nice to people makes them feel good. What we don’t get is how good it really makes people feel.”

The researchers also conducted a similar experiment with cupcakes at the same park. They recruited 200 participants and divided them into two groups. In the control group, 50 participants received a cupcake for participating. They rated their own mood, and 50 others rated how they thought the recipient would feel after receiving the cupcake.

Of the second group of 100 people, 50 were told they could give cupcakes to strangers. They assessed their own mood and the cupcake recipient’s expected mood. The researchers found that participants rated the cupcake recipient’s well-being roughly the same whether through a random act of kindness or receiving the cupcakes from the researchers. What’s more, recipients who received cupcakes through an act of kindness were happier than recipients in the control group.

“Performers don’t fully consider that their passionate performances provide the value of the performances themselves,” Kumar said. “The fact that you are kind to others adds a lot of value, not just the thing itself.”

In lab experiments, Kumar and Epley added a component to assess the consequences of good intentions. Participants first received a gift from the lab store or a gift from another participant, and then played the game. All participants who received items were told to split $100 between themselves and an unknown study recipient.

The researchers found that recipients of a lab gift through another participant’s random act of kindness were more generous with strangers in the game. They split the $100 more evenly, giving away an average of $48.02 versus an average of $41.20.

“It turns out that generosity can actually be contagious,” Kumar said. “The recipient of prosocial behavior can pay forward. Kindness can actually spread.”

For more details on the research, read the McCombs Big Ideas feature and watch a video explaining Kumar’s work.

Media Liaison

Judy Kinonen
McCombs School of Business
Phone: 409.356.3324
E: Judie.kinonen@mccombs.utexas.edu


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