In a world where “no news is good news” and good news is not news, the media often skim over stories of altruistic behavior, sensationalizing conflict instead. However, a new study suggests that good news can actually inspire good deeds.
The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, examines the warm, uplifting feeling we get from watching someone act with courage or compassion—a feeling psychologists refer to as “moral elevation.” Researchers have found that elevation induces positive emotions, makes people believe in the goodness of humanity, and inspires them to act more altruistically.
In the study, researchers explored whether people are inspired to do good by simply thinking about acts of goodwill without witnessing them firsthand. They also attempted to determine whether common acts of kindness would be enough to elicit feelings of moral elevation, or whether the deeds had to be extraordinary.
Participants read articles and watched videos depicting acts of common or uncommon kindness. Some read about an organization that establishes neighborhood gardens, while others saw a music video illustrating how the singer’s entire budget was used to aid impoverished communities around the world. Participants then had the opportunity to give money to others or keep it for themselves.
The results show that hearing about these good deeds made the participants more likely to give away their money—but only if they had been exposed to an extraordinary good deed, not just an everyday act of kindness. What’s more, participants who saw themselves as highly moral people tended to give money more often than those who did not.
This study has important implications for the news media, which tend to report negative events more often than positive ones. The results suggest that even a subtle shift by the media could have profound effects.
“We have reason to believe that even a seemingly weak stimulus, like a story of moral goodness, can evoke moral elevation responses in nonexperimental settings,” write the authors. Therefore, if the news were to report on impressive good deeds more frequently, perhaps we would see a far-reaching ripple effect among readers.