Being compassionate to a spouse makes you feel good, even if the nice thing you did goes unnoticed.
Further, the emotional benefits of compassionate acts are significant for the giver, whether or not the recipient is even aware of the act. For example, if a husband notices that the windshield on his wife’s car is covered with snow, he may scrape it off before driving to work. That gesture boosts his emotional well-being, regardless of whether his wife notices.
For a new study published in the journal Emotion, researchers studied 175 North American newlywed husbands and wives who were married an average of 7.17 months.
“Our study was designed to test a hypothesis put forth by Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dhali Lama,” says Harry Reis, a professor of psychology at the University of Rochester, “that compassionate concern for others’ welfare enhances one’s own affective state.”
Participants were asked to keep a two-week daily diary to record those instances in which either spouse put aside personal wishes in order to meet the partner’s needs. But the researchers also needed to assess the emotional well-being of the individuals. To that end, the participants kept track of their daily emotional states for each day based on 14 positive and negative terms—such as enthusiastic, happy, calm, sad, angry, and hurt.
Over the course of the 14 days, husbands and wives reported giving and receiving an average of .65 and .59 compassionate acts each day—with husbands perceiving more such acts than did their partners. The acts included such things as changing personal plans for the partner’s sake, doing something that showed the partner was valued, and expressing tenderness for the spouse.
Before the study, the researchers predicted that the greatest impact on the donor would come when the act was recognized by the recipient, because recognition would make the donor feel valued. They also thought the recipient would feel the most benefit when the act was mutually recognized, as opposed to those times when one partner perceived a compassionate act that wasn’t actually intended. While those predictions were confirmed, the researchers discovered something else.
“Clearly, a recipient needs to notice a compassionate act in order to emotionally benefit from it,” Reis says. “But recognition is much less a factor for the donor.”
The findings show that donors benefit from compassionate acts, regardless of whether the recipient explicitly notices anything occurred. And in those cases, the benefits for the donors was about 45 percent greater than for the recipients, as determined by the self-assessment scales in the daily diaries. The effect was equally strong for men and women.
The results suggest that “acting compassionately may be its own reward,” Reis says.
Other researchers from the University of Rochester and Florida Atlantic University are coauthors of the work.
Source: University of Rochester