This installment of the Science of Kindness is reprinted with permission from Envision Kindness.
In addition to being a physician, I am also a scientist – someone who likes to understand how things work and loves doing experiments that ask (and answer) these questions.
In this session, I am going to dive into Envision Kindness’ own research, which focuses on defining how images of kindness affect people. Short answer? These images potently inspire large increases in joy, hope, love, gratitude, and compassion, much more than even pretty pictures like puppies in a basket or a beautiful landscape. My aim for this lesson? To convince you, the reader, to rebalance your visual diet and improve it by adding more pictures of kindness. Your sense of joy and connection could change markedly.
Doing experiments allows for discovery—the pursuit of the truth; because if we understand the truth, we can better make sense of, and benefit from, our world. I’ve been doing experiments for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, maybe 9 years old, I was taking clocks apart to see how they worked (my parents were less than thrilled when I couldn’t put them back together).
After my son Jesse and I set out on the road to build Envision Kindness, Jesse was a strong proponent of measuring people’s responses to images of kindness. We already knew that we (and other people) felt good after looking at pictures of kindness – a warm, relaxed, and uplifted feeling.
We also knew that other scientists – some of whom were described in the second installment of the Science of Kindness — had shown that a few minutes of a video about kindness caused significant changes in people, including how they felt and their willingness to volunteer. So we decided to measure the response not to a single video, but to several still photographs of acts of kindness and compare them to other types of images.
I have done a lot of research on people—although it has always been in human metabolism or physiology. Since this was about psychology, we designed a study with the help of our scientific advisors that asked how people responded to a variety of types of images.
The images we studied included “negative” images—those of violence, destruction, and neglect; “neutral” images—hammers, towels, or doorknobs; and “positive” or pretty images—puppies in a basket, bunnies, flowers, etc. These three types of images were from a standard set that psychologists have used for years.
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