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Evidence Suggests Good Deeds are Contagious

Posted: February 8, 2010

One of the most important aspects of being a spa professional is being a positive influence in the lives of clients. This research suggest that you can be the change you want to see in the world by providing an uplifting experience to your client.

Seeing someone perform a virtuous deed, especially if they are helping another person, makes us feel good, often eliciting a warm, fuzzy feeling in our chest. This positive, uplifting emotion, known as "elevation," might make us feel great, but is it enough to get us to go out and perform good acts ourselves? According to new findings reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, the answer may be yes.

Psychological scientists Simone Schnall from the University of Cambridge, Jean Roper from the University of Plymouth, and Daniel M.T. Fessler from the University of California, Los Angeles, wanted to investigate the influence of elevation on behavior. Volunteers viewed either a neutral television clip (showing scenes from a nature documentary) or an uplifting television clip (a segment from "The Oprah Winfrey Show" showing musicians thanking their mentors) that was designed to induce feelings of elevation, and then wrote an essay describing what they watched. As they received their payment and a receipt, they were to indicate if they would be willing to participate in an additional study.

The results revealed that participants who watched the uplifting television clip were more likely to volunteer for another research study than volunteers who saw the neutral television clip, suggesting that elevation may make us more willing to help others. However, anybody can say they will volunteer for a subsequent study or would be willing to help another person. The researchers wanted to see if elevation can result in actual helping behavior.

In the next experiment, a different set of volunteers watched one of three TV clips: the neutral TV clip or the uplifting TV clip used previously, or a clip from a British comedy, intended to induce mirth. After they viewed the TV clip, the research assistant conducting the study pretended to have problems opening up a computer file that was required for the experiment. She told the volunteers that they were free to leave but as they were leaving, she asked them if they would be willing to complete a questionnaire for another study (unbeknownst to the volunteers, the actual experiment was measuring whether or not they helped with the additional study). The researcher noted the questionnaire was boring and that the volunteers could leave whenever they wanted.