We can all relate to the burnout that comes with exposure to negative events, growing numb to the violence and injustice covered in the daily news, for example. But do we habituate as well to virtuous acts, feeling less elevation after repeatedly witnessing people going above and beyond?
Researchers at Seattle Pacific University investigated this question (Erickson et al 2018), specifically whether moral elevation (a type of awe and uplift experienced when watching people help each other) decreases over time and exposure. They measured participants’ responses to daily videos of people conducting virtuous acts and compared them with responses of participants who watched either neutral or amusing videos.
The results found that, as expected, those watching virtuous acts experienced immediate and sustained elevation in contrast to the other two groups. No habituation effects were found over time, after many exposures.
Another finding revealed that only those who watched the virtuous acts over time demonstrated higher positive affect up to a month later. Those participants also reported having set more compassionate goals during the same time span (e.g., trying to be supportive of others), and set fewer self-image goals (trying to get others to recognize their positive qualities).
Apparently, we do not tire of witnessing virtuous acts. Rather, they continue to move us and mobilize us to act more compassionately and to transcend concerns with our self-image. Perhaps we should take in positive news for our well-being as we do vitamins, to help us keep our minds healthy and our hearts inspired.
Read about Envision Kindness and their study showing how visual images of acts of kindness resulted in twice the amount of joy, gratitude and optimism than images of cuteness (puppies) or beauty (flowers).
Read about the new school campus designed by and for homeless children in Oklahoma City via the nonprofit Positive Tomorrows.
Read about Sloane Johnson, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who coordinated life-changing help for the town’s local crossing-guard, Wallace Peoples, after learning of his struggles.