In a recent post, we told you about a pretty cool study that showed that random acts of kindness may reduce social anxiety. Curious about just what made this project tick, we reached out to study co-author Dr. Jennifer Trew.
Here’s what she had to say.
How did you choose to study the effects of random acts of kindness on social anxiety?
When people hear the term “social anxiety”, the first things to come to mind are typically fear and avoidance. However, socially anxious people also experience fewer positive emotions and have less desire to engage in (i.e., approach) social interactions. We (my co-author, Dr. Lynn Alden, and I) were interested in seeing whether interventions designed to increase positive emotions may help socially anxious people to feel more comfortable in social situations and decrease their social avoidance. When we looked into potential happiness interventions, the acts of kindness technique stood out. In addition to increasing well-being, kindness involves social approach as it requires you to help someone or make someone else feel happy. This really appealed to us, so we set out to discover whether kindness would help socially anxious people feel more comfortable in social situations and make them less likely to focus on avoiding potential social mishaps.
Were you surprised by the outcome that random acts of kindness had more of an effect on participants than exposure?
In some ways. Based on some of our previous findings, we expected that acts of kindness would decrease avoidance tendencies relative to the control group. However, exposure provided a tougher comparison condition as social exposure has been found to decrease anxiety and avoidance in its own right. It was exciting to find that acts of kindness decreased social avoidance tendencies more than exposure, particularly early on in the intervention. This suggests that kindness is helpful in its own right and offers something a bit different than simply engaging in more social interactions.
What do you think the most important message of these findings is? As in, what do you want our readers to know?
Our findings suggest that being kind to others decreases social anxiety and helps people to focus less on avoiding social mishaps during social interactions. This may lead to better social interactions and, potentially, better relationships. In short, being kind may help to improve your social life, particularly if you are socially anxious.
Tell us a little bit about you.
I am a postdoctoral research fellow at Simon Fraser University. I completed my PhD at the University of British Columbia under the supervision of Dr. Lynn Alden, my co-author on this paper, in 2013. This study is part of my dissertation research. I am currently investigating how social anxiety affects romantic relationships. More specifically, I am investigating whether the goals that socially anxious people have for their relationships affect the quality of these relationships.
What is your favorite all-time random act of kindness that you have experienced? (For example, mine was when someone did a “pay it forward” at Mc Donald’s. I was so surprised!)
One of my favorite acts of kindness is not one that happened to me, but rather one that we gave participants as an example for the study. It is to put a quarter in a stranger’s parking meter when you notice that it has run out of time. I remember walking home from the gym once when I was running this study. I found an extra quarter in my pocket and gave it a try. It’s such a simple thing to do but it definitely put a smile on my face.