I've written before about kindness, but today the excellent Psychologies magaine is tweeting about World Kindness Day and also have a test about kindness which you can take here. This got me thinking, most people want to be kinder but many of us feel we fail. So what does the psychology literature say about being kind?
I thought I'd start by looking at the opposite of kindness - for example prejudice and discrimination. How can we be less prejudicial towards others?
Interestingly, Dan Wegner's research shows that trying to get rid of prejudicial thoughts and replace them with kind ones is likely to increase the frequency, strength and duration of such thoughts. The alternative approach is something which I write about regularly on this blog: psychological flexibility. That is, instead of trying to change, get rid of or avoid prejudicial thoughts, we should accept them and defuse from them as literal truth. Instead of trying to change our thoughts, we should change our relationship to them.
A study by Lillis and Hayes (2007) showed that helping people to accept and defuse from their prejudicial thoughts was more useful than trying to discourage people from having such thoughts in the first place. In this study, the group which learned how to accept their thoughts but not fuse with them were far more likely to engage in behaviour which was kinder, more culturally diverse and less prejudicial than the group which received standard multicultural training.
This has profound implications because many of our past efforts to confront and challenge prejudicial thinking directly may actually have been counterproductive (Dixon, Dymond, Rehfeldt, Roche, & Zlomke, 2003; Mattaini, 1999).
Of course, we all want to be kinder. The reminder about World Kindness Day is important. But what is new is the research on psychological flexibility which shows us the psychological processes that lead people to be kind.
Not for the first time, they are not what we may have expected.