Kind people do have a particular aura about them, don't they? Some say kind people are full of light. You may call it a "warmth." Now, with the release of a study published in NeuroImage, this aura can even be confirmed as a type of "glow."

Psychologists at the University of Sussex, after analyzing the brain scans of over 1000 people who made kind decisions, are now able to say for sure that the warm glow of kindness is real. In fact, it exists in a particular place within your brain. For the first time, researchers were able to bring together previous studies that suggested generosity activates the brain's reward network.

These scientists were able to differentiate between two types of kindness: altruistic (when there is nothing to be gained from being kind) and strategic (when an act of kindness can lead to something gained).

The study's findings revealed that although strategic kindness will lead to the reward areas of the brain being more active -- that is, these areas will use up more oxygen -- the study did find something unique about altruistic acts of kindness.

Being kind with no intent of personal gain not only activates the brain's reward areas, it also activates other brain regions (in the subgenal anterior cingulate cortex) as well. This means that when you act kind with no hope of gaining something in return, your brain will  activate more and in different ways than when you are strategically kind.

Acting strategically kind can even make you feel worse, and diminish your glow. Co-author of the study and PhD student Jo Cutler explains,

"...if after a long day helping a friend move house, they hand you a fiver, you could end up feeling undervalued and less likely to help again. A hug and kind words however might spark a warm glow and make you feel appreciated."

Ultimately, it does matter what the intent is behind kindness. The study's lead and Director of the Social Decision Laboratory at the University of Sussex, Dr. Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn, does note that "Some people might say that 'why' we give does not matter, as long as we do."

However, if we can understand why others might give when there's nothing in it for them, then, as Campbell says, we "can understand how to encourage people to volunteer, donate to charity or support others in their community."

Published on: Nov 14, 2018