Researchers find that doing acts of kindness can make you feel better

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  • A group of researchers looked into the correlation of doing something good to the alleviation of physical pain
  • They found that those who did kindness to others were more tolerant to pain
  • Researchers proved this in a series of tests that compared altruistic groups with non-altruistic groups

Have you ever experienced doing something good such as helping an old woman carry her bags and suddenly, you feel warm and better?

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A group of researchers from various Chinese universities looked into this in a study that was published on the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

“For centuries, scientists have pondered why people would incur personal costs to help others and the implications for the performers themselves. While most previous studies have suggested that those who perform altruistic actions receive direct or indirect benefits that could compensate for their cost in the future, we offer another take on how this could be understood,” they said.

For their initial pilot study, they looked into two groups of people — one donated blo0d for earthquake victims while the others had blo0d extracted for their regular physical tests. Although the needle used for the altruistic group was bigger and the volume of blo0d was larger, they felt less pain than those who was having the extraction for their personal benefit.

They also asked participants if they are willing to take part in revising handbooks of children of migrant workers.  Those who volunteered composed the altruistic group; those who refused to help formed the non-altruistic group, while those who were required to do it were in the control group. After doing this, the altruistic, non-altruistic, and control groups were asked to submerge their hands into cold water and rate their pain every 15 seconds.

The altruistic group felt less pain than those in the non-altruistic and control groups. “In addition, 10 out of 86 participants (11.6%) persisted for the maximum length of time of 3 minutes and they were all in the altruistic group. These results suggest that people who had just performed altruistic behaviors perceived the same painful experience as less intense and were more tolerant of pain,” the study said.

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They did another test wherein participants answered a survey — one group received 10 yuan which will be donated to earthquake victims while the others received the money for themselves. Then, they underwent a tourniquet pain test and rated the level of pain they experienced every 15 seconds. Those in the altruistic group felt less pain than those in the non-altruistic group.

To further validate their findings, they put to the test if they can help alleviate the long-term pain experienced by cancer patients. They were asked to clean the public area for their ward mates (altruistic group) or for themselves (control group). Those in the altruistic group found gradual decrease in the pain symptoms as compared to the other group.

“Our research has revealed that in adverse situations, such as those that are physically threatening, acting altruistically can relieve unpleasant feelings, such as physical pain.”