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Seeing someone perform a virtuous deed, especially if they are helping another person, makes us feel good, according to a recent study by psychological scientists.

By eliciting elevation, even brief exposure to other individuals' prosocial behaviour motivates altruism

Dr Simone Schnall

Dr Simone Schnall, lecturer in Social Psychology at the University of Cambridge, along with Jean Roper from the University of Plymouth, and Daniel M.T. Fessler from the University of California, Los Angeles, investigated the influence of elevation on behaviour.

According to new findings reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, this positive uplifting emotion, known as 'elevation' makes us feel great and makes us go out and perform good acts.

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.

The results revealed that participants who watched the uplifting TV clip were more likely to volunteer for another research study than volunteers who saw the neutral TV 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 behaviour.

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.

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 behaviour.

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

Dr Schnall studies the relationship between cognitive and affective processes. In particular, she is interested in how embodiment informs and constrains thought and feeling. Currently, she is investigating the interactions between bodily cues, affective states and cognitive variables such as perception, attention and memory.

For a copy of the article "Elevation Leads to Altruistic Behaviour" please contact Barbara Isanski:

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