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UT study: Acts of kindness have significant effects on well-being

Researchers conducted a total of eight experiments to gauge the effects of kind acts.

AUSTIN, Texas — Acts of kindness have a bigger impact than we may realize, according to new research from the University of Texas at Austin.

A study co-authored by Amit Kumar, an assistant professor of marketing at UT's McCombs School of Business, found that although givers tend to focus on the object they're providing or the kind action they're performing, receivers focus on the warm feelings that the act makes them have. 

The study indicated that means the givers’ "miscalibrated expectations" can function as a barrier to performing other kind acts like helping, sharing or donating because they don't realize how good these actions make recipients feel.

According to a news release from UT, the researchers conducted a series of experiments to gauge the effects of kind acts. 

One experiment involved 84 participants in a Chicago park. The participants could choose whether to give a cup of hot chocolate to a stranger or keep it for themselves. Seventy-five of the participants agreed to give the cup away.

The researchers delivered the hot chocolate to the strangers and told them the participants had chosen to give them their drink. Recipients then reported their moods and performers answered how they thought the recipients felt after getting the drink.

According to the release, the performers underestimated how much their acts impacted the recipients. They expected the strangers' mood at an average of 2.7 on a scale of -5 (much more negative than normal) to 5 (much more positive than normal). Recipients reported an average of 3.5.

"Performers are not fully taking into account that their warm acts provide value from the act itself," Kumar said. "The fact that you’re being nice to others adds a lot of value beyond whatever the thing is."

To learn more, read the full news release from UT and the McCombs "Big Ideas" feature story.

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