Pay it Forward: Elevation Leads to Altruistic Behavior

By | February 4, 2010

Pay it Forward Elevation Leads to Altruistic Behavior

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 TV clip (showing scenes from a nature documentary) or an uplifting TV 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 of this second experiment were striking — the participants who viewed the uplifting TV clip spent almost twice as long helping the research assistant than participants who saw the neutral TV clip or the comedy clip, indicating that elevation may lead to helping behavior.

The authors conclude that “by eliciting elevation, even brief exposure to other individuals’ prosocial behavior motivates altruism, thus potentially providing an avenue for increasing the general level of prosociality in society.”

via Association for Psychological Science.

Oh, wrong kind of elevation. Ignore the picture. When I saw the title I was thought perhaps people on the top floors of buildings were more giving and caring individuals. If that was the case, the panhandlers would be working in the wrong place….  But “elevation” in terms of virtuous deeds being contagious makes sense given that we learn socially.  Emotions are contagious.

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