How witnessing acts of kindness benefit our brains
On an episode that aired Monday night, Jeopardy contestant Dhruv Gaur wrote a love note to host Alex Trebek, who was recently diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, in lieu of a Final Jeopardy response. “We heart you, Alex!” his note read. Trebek was touched. "That's very kind of you, thank you. It cost you $1,995. You're left with five bucks," Trebek said, his voice cracking from emotion.
At that point, reader, I lost it. I teared up, my heart swelling over how Gaur had chosen to spend his $1,995 on such a pure, heartfelt act. All of Twitter seemed to feel the same. “This may be one of the sweetest, most precious, most real moments in TV history,” gushed one user. “The kindness in some people’s hearts is truly astonishing,” tweeted another. “Such a lovely moment.”
Specific neurological systems are also recruited to result in moral elevation, according to a 2015 study of more than 100 college students, assigned to view videos of either amusing scenarios or heroic deeds. Researchers measured indicators of the activity levels of their sympathetic nervous system (SNS) — which gears up the body to fight or flee when faced with danger — as well as their parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which calms the body down — UC Berkeley reports.
At especially emotional parts of the videos, students who watched amusing scenarios didn’t show increases in PNS or SNS activity — but those who watched heroic deeds showed increased activity in both systems. This may be because witnessing heroism necessarily involves witnessing suffering, which triggers stress by way of the SNS. When a heroic deed eases that suffering, though, it activates the PNS, producing that soothing high.
Plus, our judgment of the person who initiated the act of kindness can spark related, positive emotions, explains Oscar Ybarra, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. For instance, our judgment of Gaur as selfless or self-sacrificing might inspire awe.
Read the full article at Mic.