Sunday, April 3, 2011

Psychology: “Tales of Virtue Prove Morally Inspiring”

“Tales of Virtue Prove Morally Inspiring”
by Matthew Robinson

Warning: 
Reading this story could cause you to do great things.

"People can be inspired to do good deeds themselves after reading stories in the media that focus on acts of human kindness, according to a recent study at the University of British Columbia. Karl Aquino, a professor at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, said his research shows that when people are presented with an example of extraordinary virtue, a number of curious and wonderful things happen.

“You may feel a lump in your throat, your eyes might water, you might even start to feel a sense of awe or inspiration,” said Prof. Aquino, who added that the obvious physical response is only the beginning. The really interesting part comes next. It makes people start to think differently about humanity, so they start to think that people are really better than they might have thought,” he said, “and then the third component is that they start to think differently about their own lives. They feel like they want to be better people.”

The study, led by Prof. Aquino and co-authored by Brent McFerran, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Michigan, presented two news stories to random participants. One story was about a beautiful sunset, and the other was about a shooting that resulted in parents of the victim offering forgiveness and assistance to the family of the shooter. After reading the two articles, subjects were asked to divide $10 between themselves and an unknown partner. It was found that people shared an average of 24 per cent more money after reading the story of the shooting than they gave after reading the story of the sunset.

Prof. Aquino said a story that appeared in The Globe and Mail last July, by Mark MacKinnon, was a perfect example of the type of tale that could promote positive action in readers. The story told of octogenarian Yu Pengnian's journey from an impoverished street hawker to a Hong Kong real-estate magnate who donated nearly $1.3-billion to charity.

Prof. Aquino also recounted the story of Paul Farmer, a doctor and founder of Partners in Health, a charitable Boston-based organization that provides medical care to patients across the world who are living in poverty. “A lot of people don’t know about him. I know, because I put his picture up and I tell my students about him,” he said. “This guy, he has just made extraordinary commitments in his life to try to help other people … he’s conflicted, because he often feels like he sacrifices his family to do this.”

Prof. Aquino said his research could lead to some constructive results for fundraising efforts, but not necessarily for large-scale disasters such as the earthquake in Japan. “Those kind of tragedies many people do give to just because of the magnitude,” he said. “What we’re really trying to show is that, when you give someone a model or present them with an example, that it can motivate them to give to things that they might never have thought about giving to.” 

"Feeling inspired?”

Hat tip to Alex Noble for this material.

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