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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 book.

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 nerve.

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 program.

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 kindness.

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