Kindness Is Contagious
Teach Your Children Well
Warming the Heart continued...
In a second study, elevation was induced in subjects by showing
them 10-minute video clips: one about the life of Mother Teresa; one comedy
video; and one emotionally neutral but interesting documentary.
In both studies, Haidt says, participants reported different
patterns of physical feelings and motivations during the elevated thoughts.
"Elevated participants were more likely to report physical feelings in
their chests, especially warm, pleasant, or tingling feelings, and they were
more likely to report wanting to help others, to become better people
themselves, and to affiliate with others," Haidt writes in the forthcoming
Haidt acknowledges the difficulties in studying elevation.
Among these is that the phenomenon does not appear to be accompanied by a
distinguishing facial expression -- the kind of trait most often used as a
physical marker for other emotional or psychological states.
"Psychologists are struggling to be scientific about subtle
phenomena," he says. "We tend to gravitate toward any objective marker,
and facial expression is the most expressive marker for emotion."
But Haidt says he believes there is at least one
measurable response associated with elevation: namely, stimulation of the vagus
nerve, which affects heart beat rate. In forthcoming studies, Haidt says he
hopes to induce elevation in subjects, and then measure its effect on the vagus
Perform Random Acts of Kindness
So how might positive psychology and insights into elevation be
applied in real life to parenting and education? Haidt says the principles of
elevation have informed at least one school-based education program.
That program, called "Kindness Is Contagious: Catch
It," began in a single Kansas City, Mo., school and has since spread to
more than 400 public schools in the area, according to Su Ellen Fried, founder
of the Stop Violence Coalition, which now sponsors the school-based
Among the activities the program encourages is one in which
children are asked to fill up two jars with beans. One jar contains a bean for
every time a child receives a put-down, insult, or injury; another jar contains
a bean for every time a child receives a "put-up" or an act of