What Happens in Your Brain and Body When You Witness Human Kindness
By Melissa Dahl!
---It is just plain nice to witness those rare moments when people show real kindness to each other, and psychologists have a phrase for that: It's called moral elevation, that warm-and-fuzzy feeling you get from simply witnessing compassion. Scientists know that moral elevation tends to nudge people toward behaving more altruistically themselves, and now some new research has helped explain this effect by recording what happens inside the brain and body when we see a little bit of niceness occur.
---In a post for the Greater Good Science Center's website, writer Jill Suttie explains the study's findings. The researchers, led by Walter Piper at New York University, showed study participants either a film clip in which someone took care of someone else after an incidence of suffering, or one that was just supposed to be funny. They recorded the participants' heart rate in order to get an idea of what their sympathetic nervous system (which promotes arousal, known colloquially as the "fight or flight" system) was doing, and also measured the activity level of the parasympathetic nervous system (which promotes rest, including slowing of the heart rate).
---They observed increased activity in both systems when the participants viewed the moral-elevation videos, but the funny clip didn't activate either nervous system. Suttie explains what this might mean: