Published: 21st September 2018
Acts of kindness can reduce depression: York University study
Researchers from York University in Canada asked the participants, who were on average in their mid-30s, to take part in one of three online compassion intervention exercises
Showing compassion to others can help reduce depression and increase life satisfaction, say scientists who found that the most disagreeable individuals benefit the greatest. The most disagreeable individuals, who are also the least likely to be kind, can benefit most from behaving more compassionately, a York University study has found.
More than 640 people who were mildly depressed took part in the study which tracked the results of online compassion training. Researchers from York University in Canada asked the participants, who were on average in their mid-30s, to take part in one of three online compassion intervention exercises including a control condition.
They were asked to complete their exercise and report back via an online platform every other day for three weeks. Two months later, disagreeable participants who performed acts of kindness in close relationships showed the greatest reductions in depression and greatest increases in life satisfaction.
"As a result of their hostility and lack of cooperation, disagreeable types risk getting rejected or ostracised. There is a lot of conflict in their relationships, and they suffer the consequences, said Myriam Mongrain, a professor at York. We found that providing concrete suggestions to those individuals, giving them ways in which they could express empathic concern in their close relationships was tremendously helpful," said Mongrain.
Highly disagreeable people often lack empathy, even in their close relationships, said Mongrain.
"Implementing these new behaviours might have left them feeling affirmed and liked in their close social circle. This might have been the anti-depressant ingredient in this group," she said.
The findings are particularly noteworthy given that the interventions were administered online and only required 10-15 minutes every other day. In other words, it was easy to implement, could be administered worldwide and had profound effects on some individuals.
In another exercise condition, participants were asked to spend up to 10 minutes meditating on nurturing phrases such as "May you be happy" or "May you be safe." This exercise was of benefit to participants as a whole.
However, when examining interactions effects with the disagreeable personality variable, the researchers found that it was the kindness exercise that was most helpful for this subgroup. Researchers say the results could have immediate practical applications for social scientists, policymakers, psychology researchers, and health practitioners.
The widespread application of compassion interventions could contribute to a more humane and kinder society, particularly when targeted at those prone to hostility.