Written by Dr. Mark Winwood
Dr Mark Winwood is a leading psychologist, and Clinical Lead for Mental Health Services at AXA Health.
Imagine being the reason someone smiles today. Makes you smile back a little bit in return, doesn’t it? Whether you’re acting kind, or someone’s been kind to you, chances are it feels good for all involved. It’s no coincidence, kindness IS contagious, so the more we do kind things, the kinder other people end up being, too. In psychological terms, this is known as activating mirror neurones, or ‘modelling behaviours’, like when someone smiles at you, you can’t help smiling back.
If that wasn’t a good enough reason, science shows that kindness also helps benefit our health, both physically and mentally. You don’t need grand gestures, money or much of an imagination to make someone’s day while giving yourself a boost at the same time. Dr Mark Winwood, Clinical Lead for Mental Health Services at AXA Health, shares the psychology of kindness and some of the ways we can all benefit.
We’re made to be kind
“We’re biologically wired to be kind – it’s human nature. That’s not to say everyone behaves kindly, we know that’s not true – many of us can be unkind, either intentionally or through lack of awareness. Sometimes, through outside influences or the stress of our day-to-day lives, we can lose this inherent ability. But it is possible to learn to be kinder, to develop this trait with practice and repetition.”
In fact, research has found that people can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help. A study by researchers at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center of the University of Wisconsin–Madison shows that adults can be trained to be more compassionate. Researchers asked: “Can compassion be trained and learned in adults? Can we become more caring if we practice that mindset?” Their evidence points to yes.
Darwin observed that humans have an enormous capacity for prosocial, cooperative and altruistic behaviour. That is, we’re all capable of kindness if we choose.