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Witnessing Uplifting Behavior May Spur Good Deeds

Compassion appeared to be contagious in experiment using volunteers

SATURDAY, Feb. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Seeing someone else do a good deed appears to inspire you to do the same by making you feel uplifted, new research suggests.

In an experiment, researchers recruited volunteers who watched a "neutral" video clip of scenes from a nature documentary or a clip from "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in which musicians thanked their mentors. The participants then wrote essays about what they watched, were paid for their time and asked to indicate whether they'd want to take part in another study.

Those who saw the Oprah Winfrey clip were more likely to volunteer to take part in another study.

The positive, uplifting emotion that makes people feel good and may inspire them to help others is known as "elevation," the researchers explained in a news release about the experiment from the Association for Psychological Science.

In another experiment, participants watched one of the previous two clips or a third clip from a British comedy. Afterwards, a research assistant said she was having trouble opening a computer file connected to the study, and told the volunteers that they were free to leave, but as they exited she asked the participants if they would be willing to fill out a boring questionnaire for another study.

Volunteers who watched the Oprah Winfrey clip spent almost twice as long helping the assistant as those who watched the other clips, the researchers noted.

The study authors concluded that "by eliciting elevation, even brief exposure to other individuals' prosocial behavior motivates altruism, thus potentially providing an avenue for increasing the general level of prosociality in society."

The findings are to be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Psychological Science.

More information

Check out Stanford University for more about altruism and compassion.

-- Randy Dotinga

SOURCE: Association for Psychological Science, news release, February, 2010

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