Nine to twelve-year-olds who perform kind acts are not only happier, but also find greater acceptance in their peer groups, according to research published December 26, 2012 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Kristin Layous and colleagues from the University of California, Riverside.
The authors randomly assigned over 400 students aged 9-12 to two groups: one group performed 'acts of kindness' and the other kept track of pleasant places they visited each week. Examples of kind acts included descriptions like "gave someone some of my lunch" or "gave my mom a hug when she was stressed by her job", and places visited included the baseball diamond, shopping center or a grandparent's house.
Children were asked to report on their levels of happiness after 4 weeks of activities, and the researchers found that children who performed kind acts were happier than the other group. To assess peer acceptance, students were given a list of classmates and asked to circle those they would like to work with for school activities. Here, the authors found that the group that had performed kind acts fared significantly better.
Though both groups of children had an increased sense of well-being from the activities, only the group that performed kind acts experienced greater acceptance by their peers. According to the authors, "Increasing peer acceptance is a critical goal related to a variety of important academic and social outcomes, including reduced likelihood of being bullied." They suggest that teachers and others can use the findings of this study to introduce regular pro-social activities into classrooms for pre-teens. Layous adds, "The findings suggest that a simple and relatively brief prosocial activity can increase liking among classmates. Given the relationship between peer acceptance and many social and academic outcomes, we think these findings have important implications for the classroom."
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