EASP Extra Grant Report: Everyday kindness in times of COVID-19
01.12.2020, by Tina Keil in grant report
by Olga Białobrzeska, Justyna Bąba, Sylwia Bedyńska, Aleksandra Cisłak, Magdalena Formanowicz¹; Małgorzata Gocłowska²; Aleksandra Cichocka³;
¹Center for Research on Social Relations, SWPS University, Poland;
²University of Bath, UK; ³University of Kent, UK
The year 2020 will be remembered through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has limited how close we can be with others in terms of physical proximity. Yet, it does not necessarily impose restrictions on revealing kindness beyond the physical context. Does practicing everyday kindness during the pandemic help us deal with the pandemic’s challenges? Does it make us more prone to solidarity with others and prosocial behaviors in the face of the crisis that has affected society as a whole? In this research, we address these questions and examine whether practicing everyday kindness can prevent isolation fatigue and maintain prosocial attitudes and behaviors.
We define everyday kindness (EK) as voluntary, low-cost actions intended to express a friendly attitude toward a specific person(s) such as smiling at a neighbor or posting a nice comment on friends’ social media. This situates EK as a distinctive class of prosocial behavior (Penner et al., 2005) that is different from the more costly acts that have been thoroughly investigated by social psychological research (Stürmer & Snyder, 2010). Unlike the literature on the effects of prosocial behavior, research on the potential effects of practicing everyday kindness is scarce. Studies have documented a positive effect of being kind to others on the actor’s subjective happiness and satisfaction with life (Curry et al., 2018; Lyubomirsky et al., 2005).
Furthermore, the social functions of EK can spread beyond the individual level. Participants who were prompted to engage in a “more friendly than usual” interaction with the barista at Starbucks café reported a higher sense of belonging than those in the control group (Sandstrom & Dunn, 2014). The increased sense of social connectedness can in turn be a basis for prosocial decisions and actions, as we know from past work that a sense of community is positively related to activism (Omoto & Snyder, 2009) as well as to solidarity, collective actions and helping behavior (Louis et al., 2016; Louis et al., 2019). Additionally, mutual trust is linked to volunteering and supporting charity (Putnam, 2007), and compassion enhances prosocial behavior towards strangers (Leiberg et al., 2011). Summing up, we argue that promoting EK can be beneficial not only for people’s wellbeing, but also efficient in fostering large scale prosociality. We hypothesized that performing everyday kindness improves well-being (Hypothesis 1), promotes social connectedness (Hypothesis 2), and helping (Hypothesis 3).
In correlational Study 1 (N = 497) we investigated relations between practicing everyday kindness, well-being, a sense of social connectedness, and helping attitudes. We also sought to verify the assumption that practicing everyday kindness differs from practicing prosocial behaviors. Participants (Prolific respondents) read given definitions of everyday kindness and prosociality. Next, participants rated their own everyday kindness and prosociality during the pandemic. They were also asked about their general perception of everyday kindness and prosociality. Then, they completed a series of scales measuring their sense of social connectedness (identification with the community, sense of solidarity, generalized trust and compassion), as well as helping attitudes and well-being. The results supported our main reasoning that although everyday kindness belongs to the broader construct of prosocial behavior, it is also distinct from prosocial acts – performing everyday kindness and prosociality were only moderately correlated, and they differed in terms of their frequency and cost. We also found that, in line with the hypotheses, that performing everyday kindness was positively linked to well-being, social connectedness, and a willingness to engage in more costly prosocial behavior.
Study 1 found a link between the focal variables, so we designed a one-day online intervention aimed at enhancing everyday kindness and tested its effectiveness in improving well being, social connectedness and helping in Study 2 (N = 482). Participants were social media users invited to take part in the study by four influencers via their social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram). First, participants were asked to choose and perform five small tasks within the next 24 hours (the experimental manipulation). They were randomly assigned to one of two conditions – everyday kindness tasks (experimental condition) and everyday errands (control condition). Second, after performing the tasks, participants completed a series of questionnaires measuring their sense of social connectedness, helping attitudes and well-being. At the very end, in order to create the impression that the last part was unrelated to the study, we measured behavioral prosociality by inviting the respondents to participate in a voluntary social initiative. Participants were offered an opportunity to write a letter of appreciation to the health care workers involved in fighting COVID-19.
We found that practicing acts of everyday kindness increased well-being and actual prosocial behavior, while it had no effect on self-reports (sense of social connectedness and helping attitudes). Those who performed acts of everyday kindness, more often (by 10%) voluntarily spent their time on writing appreciation letters to health care workers.
In the present research we followed the idea that physical distancing does not have to equal social distancing, but that psychological closeness can be cultivated despite physical distancing through everyday kindness. We documented that practicing everyday kindness in restricted conditions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic is positively related to well-being, social connectedness and intentions to help others, and that intentionally practicing it can enhance people’s well-being and prosocial behavior. The first correlational study indicated a positive relationship between everyday kindness and well-being, social connectedness and helping attitudes. In the experimental Study 2, with an experimental design, we replicated the link between everyday kindness and well-being, and between everyday kindness and an actual helping behavior (rather than the attitude). The two effects thus seem rather robust. The link between everyday kindness and social connectedness, however, requires further corroboration in future studies.
Importantly, people can benefit from practicing everyday kindness even when our social interactions are disrupted by circumstances such as the pandemic. The manipulation used in Study 2 was designed as a potential kindness intervention that could be applied online in times of a pandemic. The participants were asked to do five acts of everyday kindness belonging to five social circles (towards your close ones, people from your work/school, more distant others, strangers and people on the internet). The effectiveness of similar interventions based on intentional activities was demonstrated in previous studies, e.g., writing gratitude journals improves a sense of happiness (Lyubomirsky et al., 2011; Seligman et al., 2005). The present intervention seems to be effective as well – it improved well-being, mood and prosocial behavior.
Based on the open-ended questions about what everyday kindness acts participants had been doing during the pandemic, we created a short catalog of everyday kindness ideas belonging to five social circles (towards your close ones, people from your work/school, more distant others, strangers and people on the internet). This catalog was illustrated and can be used for promotion of the results and everyday kindness in general through social media.
The letters of appreciation to the health care workers involved in fighting COVID-19 that participants had written were printed as a poster and sent to Polish hospitals. You can see the illustrations and the poster below (see downloads).
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