The unexpected benefit of being nice, according to science
Anyone who suffers from social anxiety knows how unbelievably and truly crippling it can be on any given day. Something as simple as walking into a party can be suffocating, and normal social interactions can lead to days and days of totally exhausting rumination. All of this can lead to less social interaction in general, and thus, fewer friends.
But it turns out that there’s something that can lower social anxiety: little acts of kindness.
According to recent research by social psychologists at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University, doing good deeds can help those with social anxiety feel more at peace. Here’s the rundown of the findings: Jennifer L. Trew and Lynn E. Alden tested 115 undergraduates. The subjects were split into three groups and asked to do something for one month. One group was asked to go out of their way to be kind to others. Another was asked to confront their social anxiety by doing exactly what makes them nervous. The third group was a control group — they were simply asked to keep a journal for a month.
All of the subjects were tested before and after the experiment; the test measured their levels of social anxiety and their “avoidance goals” (how much they avoided any social situations that frightened them). Compared to the control and confrontation group, the kindness group reported the lowest overall drops of social anxiety and avoidance at the end of the experiment.
If you think about it, it makes total sense. There’s the fact that being nicer to people may elicit better responses from them, which may make one feel more accepted. However, there’s a less obvious reason as well: that anxiety is a very inward-focused condition, and thinking can make you totally spiral. Acts of kindness help you focus your attention outwards to the world, breaking that cycle of anxiety, even if just for a few minutes.
“Acts of kindness may help to counter negative social expectations by promoting more positive perceptions and expectations of a person’s social environment,” Trew explained, according to Psych Central. “It helps to reduce their levels of social anxiety and, in turn, makes them less likely to want to avoid social situations.”
And it takes no time at all — in the experiment, the kindness group just did little things that took just a bit of time in their day: doing a roommate’s dishes, mowing the neighbor’s lawn, or donating to charity. “An intervention using this technique may work especially well early on while participants anticipate positive reactions from others in response to their kindness,” Alden hypothesized in Psych Central.
Man, the benefits of being nice are never-ending. Making someone’s day while also reducing your own social anxiety. . . if that’s not a win-win, we don’t know what is.
(Image via Weinstein Company)