The Positive Psychology of Kindness

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The ability to show empathy to other living things be it, animals, plants or other humans is part of the human psyche. Humans are one of the most complex organisms that walk this earth, we have the ability to love one another today and be at odds in a few hours because of minor disagreements. Whether it is from losing a loved one, or simply it being a Monday morning can ruin our day. Literature suggests that the way we treat someone can greatly affect how they feel towards us. This study set out to show that the nicer you treat someone, the more likely they are to treat you the same. The participants in this study are chosen at random, this was based on whoever I came in contact with throughout the day, and most of the participants were in the Arlington-Mansfield area. This project was conducted in an observational manner where the experimenter simply interacted with the subjects with extreme kindness without their knowledge of the project. A great number of respondents seemed a little in awe at first, but responded in a nice and pleasant manner. The results yielded the nicer you treat people, the more likely they are to treat you same in return.

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On October 9th 2018, I set out to act with extreme kindness to everyone I came across on that day. I never went out of my way to have an interaction with people, I simply let it naturally occur. I did have to work that day, making most of my interaction with my customers. My first interaction that morning was with one of my computer classmate, I started by greeting her and asking her about her day and how her other classes were going at first, she seems startled her attention was divided in a manner that she began browsing her phone, while she gave me one response answers which is now a universal sign of “”I am not interested in talking to you””. As the day went on it got better and in some cases interesting. Throughout this project, I will discuss certain psychological theories to try to understand why certain people responded the way they did.

Experience and People’s Expectations

Being nice to people goes a long way, not just seeing the smile on people’s faces, but also made me feel good about myself. Appearance played a big role in my expectations when treating people nicely. In one instance while at work, at about six pm, usually the slow hours at work and at this time we usually get the construction workers, these guys have a long and tedious workday on top of that they are yet to get their work out for the day. So this gentleman comes in to get a pre workout energy drink, he was a big guy In the realms of six foot four about two hundredth and twenty pounds with dark sunglasses on, with a hard hat and the meanest look I had seen all day. My first instinct was to ring him up for what he wanted and let him go rather, he was greeted with a great smile, then we sparked a conversation about his workouts and what he does for work, he ended up being a really great guy. The moral here is simply expecting a certain type of reaction may prevent us from interacting or being nice to people we meet along the way.

During the course of this project, what stood out was the nicer I was to people, the more likely they were to ask for favors, or take advantage of me. In two instances during this project I noticed the following; customers where more inclined to ask for extra discounts or special promotions when I was nice to them. This goes for my professors as well, because I greeted my professors and asked about their day upon walking into class, they were more likely to look at me while they lectured, and were more likely to ask me questions compared to the rest of the class, and everyone I treated with kindness was more likely to return some form of kindness back, where it was a mere smile or an act of kindness as well. The humanistic theory of psychology states that humans are inherently good, which is expected for humans to respond to kindness with any form of kindness (McLeod, Humanism, 2015). Although the humanistic theory of psychology fits well, the behavioral theory does give an explanation of why some people might take advantage of people who show kindness, because we learn by means of classical conditioning or operant conditioning with kindness being the stimuli in this case, people are likely to use that to their advantage to satisfy their needs (McLeod, Behaviorist Approach, 2017)

People’s Responses and Surprises

Thorndike’s law of effect states that behaviors that receive a satisfying report are likely to be repeated and behaviors with an unsatisfying response are less likely to be repeated (Cherry, The Law of Effect in Psychology, 2018). After completing this project what surprised me the most was the after effect, these after effects support Thorndike’s law of effect. Most of the professors I greeted and asked about their day we more likely to say hello to me when I walked into class, and whenever we came across each other in the hallways, and the customers I treated nicely we more likely to come back to my store specifically even though there are two locations in the Mansfield area. Like (Cherry, The Law of Effect in Psychology, 2018) stated, behaviors immediately followed by favorable consequences are more likely to occur again. In one instance during this project, while at work an older lady in her 70’s grabbed a product off the shelf, when my employee rung her up the item cost more than what the tag showed, the lady went on to yell at my employee for not wanting honor the shelf price, I went on to tell my employee to honor the shelf price then I preceded to talk to the lady asking her questions about her day, we had a great conversation for about 30 minutes she was actually a very nice lady. The moral of that interaction here is to back up John B. Watson’s theory on behaviorism, people’s surroundings can affect the way they behave if I was not around and my employee decided not to honor the shelf price the lady could have created a much bigger scene. All behavior can be reduced to a simple stimulus-response association, no matter how complex the behavior (McLeod, Behaviorist Approach, 2017).

Our presence or others in our environment can greatly affect how we behave. There are various factors as to why these happen, we might be worried what their opinions are of us whether they like us or not and because we are not sure of how they feel about us, it could create anxiety. Tension can occur when a person is put in an uncomfortable situation, this psychological tension puts the individual in a negative drive state which is similar to hunger or thirst which are factors of our primary drive (Cherry, Drive-Reduction , 2018). Remember my computer classmate? Drive theory can be used to explain what she felt like when a random person who never talks to her all of a sudden began to show extreme care and kindness to her. This theory was brought to light by Clark Hull, Hall’s theory emphasized that a drive creates an unpleasant situation, in order to reduce this tension humans and animals have to seek out ways to fulfill these needs (Cherry, Drive-Reduction , 2018). In this case because my computer classmate was taken via surprise by a stranger acting extremely nice to her, she reverted to pay more attention to her phone to reduce the uncomfortable feeling. Her reverting to using her cellphone acts as the stimuli reinforcement because it reduces the uncomfortable situation, this increases the likely hood of her actions occurring again whenever she encounters similar situation.


The aim of this project was to observe the reactions of various individuals as I acted extremely kind to them regardless of the situation. This observational study revealed that people where likely to act kind in return. However, some participants were taken by surprise of the extreme kindness and where a little suspicious about what was happening as well. These results might have been influenced by a few factors such as; me being a complete stranger to the participants, the time limit, what type of day the participants were having whether it was a good or a bad day, and the sample size. A significant finding was that, the individuals I treated nicely were more likely to pay more attention to me in some instances were more likely to go out of their way to say hello whenever they saw me. In class my professors where more likely to give me their time and attention during lectures, and at work customers more likely to come back to my store specifically because they believed I had better customer service.

All these reactions can be describe through the heuristic theory of psychology. This theory was first brought to light by Gestalt Psychologists; simply stating that heuristics are mental processes that help humans solve problems and learn new concepts, this process makes problems less complex by ignoring some of the vital information either consciously or unconsciously (Lim, 2018). In other words, Heuristic decision making is a rule of thumb decision which is not always necessarily true, this could be seen throughout the whole observation majority of the participants responded with some form of kindness back. We can argue that it is human nature to show kindness especially if they are treated kindly by another individual.

This project did back up our hypothesis, people are likely to treat you nicely if you treat them the same. As stated in the literature, the heuristic theory explains why this is the case. There might be underlying reasons as well as to why these people treated me nicely, some of them might just be really nice people, some might be having a really good day, or some individuals be having a bad day but have a great emotional intelligence to return kindness. What I took away from this project was emotional intelligence (EI). Emotional intelligence can take you a long way, the capability to have a good understanding in emotional experience of oneself and others, then responding fittingly to those emotions can be very beneficial to us in life (Grison, Heatherton, & Gazzaniga, 2017). My interaction with the old lady and the price change required me to demonstrate form of emotional intelligence, honoring the price and going on to have a good conversation with her. Grison et al 2017, mention critics questioning whether EI is a type of intelligence or whether it stretches the definition of intelligence too far, this kindness project does make me understand the ability to demonstrate understanding and sympathy for another individual could go a long way. Whether EI is considered a form of intelligence or not, it is essential for individuals to possess some form of EI to advance in life.

This kindness project gave us an insight into what we could be expect from people when we act extremely kind to them. The extent to which this study could be generalized is minimal, for future research it will be essential to be a little more specific on the location of the survey and little to no researcher interaction with the subjects. There is little knowledge about the individuals I came across throughout this project, it would be useful for further researchers to further their tests as to what their participants day was like before their interaction, what their participants financial status is like, and it would be helpful to gather both qualitative and quantitative data from the participants to determine what could be the contributing factors to how each individual responded to kindness, or what differed among the participants.

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The Positive Psychology of Kindness. (2020, Mar 31). Retrieved November 28, 2022 , from

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