10 things we learned from the world’s largest study on kindness

Claudia Hammond – BBC Radio 4

Published 05/15/2022 09:07 / Updated on 05/15/2022 09:08

    (credit: Getty Images)

(credit: Getty Images)

In August 2021, BBC Radio 4 launched the Kindness Test, an online study created by a team at the University of Sussex, UK, led by psychologist Robin Banerjee.

People can choose to participate, and with more than 60,000 contributions, it has become the world’s largest in-depth study of kindness.

Here are 10 things we learned about the topic:

1. Charity is very common

Three-quarters of people said they received acts of kindness or kindness from close friends or family members often or nearly all of the time.

And when asked about the last time someone was kind, 16% said it was the last hour, and another 43% said it was the day before.

No matter how old they were or where they lived, kindness was very common.

2. The most common act of kindness is to help people when they ask for it.

You don’t have to climb Everest for charity or rescue someone from a burning building (such a wonderful feat) to practice kindness in everyday life and make a difference in people’s lives.

Our study shows that most acts of kindness happen every day.

Helping people when they ask was the most kind gesture reported. Then came favours, opening the door to let people in, helping strangers pick up things they had dropped—and feeling anxious about people less fortunate than themselves.

3. Two-thirds think the pandemic has made us kinder

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People who took the kindness test felt that when it came to what they experienced so far, their levels of kindness either stayed the same (39%) or decreased (36%).

woman serving soup

Getty Images

However, the experience during the Covid-19 pandemic looks very different, with two-thirds of people saying this unprecedented time has made people kinder.

Perhaps because it was such a difficult time, people took longer to take care of each other and realized that a little kindness could make a big difference.

4. There is a relationship between kindness and luxury

It probably won’t be surprising to learn that people who regularly receive different kind acts have higher levels of well-being.

But the study also found that those who do more acts of kindness or just perceive that other people are doing good deeds also have higher levels of well-being, on average.

This finding is in line with many previous research showing that acting pleasantly makes us feel good.

5. Extroverts make and receive more charitable gestures

Personality had a significant impact on how often participants said they were kind to others, but also on how often they treated others.

A personality scale was included in the kindness test, and the nicest people were more likely to score high on extraversion, as well as agreeableness and openness.

People who score high in openness are imaginative, curious, and enjoy new experiences.

Of course, we’re talking about averages, so you can stay alone and not like new experiences, but still be very nice.

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6. People see good deeds at home more than anywhere else

When we asked people where gestures of consideration and kindness are located, home came first, followed by medical environments, the workplace, green spaces, and stores.

The places where people saw the least acts of kindness were on the Internet, on public transportation, and on the street.

The good news is that people generally agreed that kindness is valued in work, particularly in social work, health care, hospitality, and education.

7. Women do a little more good deeds on average, as do religious people

Of course, we have to rely on self-reports in this study, so there is a possibility that women and religious people feel they have to say they are okay in order to recover.

But many people are willing to admit that they are not very benevolent, for example, and previous studies have shown that we are very good at judging our own levels of kindness.

Woman wiping ice cream from her boyfriend's mouth

Getty Images
Most acts of kindness are small everyday gestures

So I tend to take people’s words seriously.

8. We worry that our kind actions will be misinterpreted

People were asked what might prevent them from being kind, and the main reason they gave was that they feared their actions would be misinterpreted.

Participants also stated that they did not have enough time to be as nice as they liked, and half said that social media played a role in preventing them from being more kind.

9. People who talk to strangers see and receive more kindness

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The interesting thing here is that this difference between speakers and non-speakers persisted even when personality was taken into account.

So not only are extroverts more likely to be kind, and because they are extroverted, they are more likely to talk to strangers.

Whatever your personality, the more you talk to strangers, on average, the more kindness you receive, but also the more kindness you notice happening around you.

10. Income doesn’t make much difference to how well people are

How much money people earn has nothing to do with public reports of kindness.

But we also asked participants to imagine they had received £850 out of nowhere and asked them how much of this sky-high money they could donate.

While some were honest enough to say they would not donate anything, the average amount people said they would donate was £252.

Low-income people tend to say they’ll donate smaller amounts on average, which makes sense because they’re less able to afford it, but interestingly enough, higher-income participants also donated less.


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About the Author: Camelia Kirk

"Friendly zombie guru. Avid pop culture scholar. Freelance travel geek. Wannabe troublemaker. Coffee specialist."

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