Jennifer Trew (top) and research assistant Dorianna Dickson (bottom)
Photo Credit: Justin Wong

research

Being kind may help your social life

July 10, 2015
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Performing acts of kindness is known to increase levels of happiness, but according to a new study, it can also help socially anxious people relax and mingle more easily with others.

The study, co-authored by Jennifer Trew, a postdoctoral research fellow in SFU’s Department of Psychology, and Lynn Alden, a psychology professor at UBC, found that socially anxious people who performed acts of kindness reported less desire to avoid negative outcomes in social situations.  

“Social anxiety is the fear others may judge or evaluate you,” explains Trew, who notes it is much more severe than shyness. “Socially anxious people may avoid social situations because they are afraid that they will embarrass themselves or that others will evaluate them negatively.

“As a result, they often have fewer and less rewarding social relationships.”

For the study, 115 undergraduate students who experience high levels of social anxiety were recruited and divided into three groups.

The first group was asked to actively perform acts of kindness such as washing a roommate’s dishes, mowing a neighbour’s lawn, or donating to a charity. The second group was only exposed to social interactions and was not asked to engage in such deeds, while the third group participated in no specific intervention.

Compared to the other two groups, researchers found the first group focused less on avoiding looking foolish, or doing or saying something wrong that could lead others to evaluate them negatively. The researchers say this suggests acts of kindness could lead to better social interactions and more meaningful relationships.

"Acts of kindness may help to counter negative social expectations by promoting more positive perceptions and expectations of a person's social environment," explains Trew.

"It helps to reduce their levels of social anxiety and helps them to focus less on avoiding social mishaps. This may improve social interactions and make them less likely to want to avoid social situations in the future."

The study, titled “Kindness Reduces Avoidance Goals in Socially Anxious Individuals,” was recently published in the journal Motivation and Emotion.