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The Benefits of Benevolence

The Benefits of Benevolence

It turns out people benefit just as much from the act of giving than simply being on the receiving end.

Many scientific benevolence studies have been closely monitoring and linking the brain benefits and emotional improvement in those participating in generous acts. These behaviors enhance entire communities, occupied by thoughtfully connected citizens.

The definition of giving is to present voluntarily and without expecting compensation; bestow.

The article below will explore the science behind the benefits of giving and why it can benefit not only the recipients but expand into a far-reaching positive ripple effect igniting overall positive change.

What We Currently Believe

The existing theory on giving is that it’s good for those less fortunate. It increases the health and happiness of the recipient of the charitable deed. This old school of thought centers on a fear-based public opinion viewing giving as losing.

Many people believe they don’t have the economic status or time to give. People don’t know that giving is good for them. They view it as a loss instead of an overall enhancement or gain.

The current misconception is that giving away time and money directly translates into a loss.

Scientific Mythbusters 

New scientific studies are finding the positive biological and emotional benefits brought on through charitable deeds, gifts, and movements. Dubbed a “helper’s high,” scientists are now studying the feel-good endorphin release in the brain brought on by altruistic behavior.

Feel Good Endorphins 

There is a proven physiological response when people give. The reward and pleasure centers in the brain light up in the same way that they would upon receiving a gift. Oxytocin floods the body lowering stress and contributing to an overall sense of wellbeing.

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Findings at the National Institute of Health by Jorge Moll showed activated regions of pleasure, empathy, trust, and social connectedness in the brains of people who gave to charities.

Another study found giving money increased the happiness of participants as opposed to spending it on themselves (Norton, 2008). Researchers saw this take place in a study conducted with people performing consistent acts of kindness over the course of six weeks (Lyubomirsky, 2010).

Increase in Overall Health

In another comprehensive study of 40 different families from diverse classes, races and neighborhoods people choosing to be more emotionally available and generous to others were shown to be in 48% greater overall health.

The 2,000 individuals studied over the course of five years had their lifestyles and spending habits closely monitored. The findings showed much lower depressions rates among individuals who donated more than 10% of their incomes (Smith, 2009).

Volunteer Time is Free Money

Findings show the same benefits from donating to charities can be achieved through volunteer efforts. Individuals can benefit greatly by giving of their time in their neighborhood in places like early literacy initiatives reading to children, homeless shelters, and soup kitchens.

Donating time and non-monetary resources such as giving to blood banks or donating hair are all equally rewarding activities.

Studies are finding average individuals who volunteered around 5.8 hours each month would describe their existence as very happy.

On the other end of the spectrum those confessing to feelings of inadequacy and stating they are very unhappy clocked volunteer methods at around 0.6 hours per month (Davidson, Smith).

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Researchers found nine different causal mechanisms behind giving. Motivations among better social networking, and improved sense of self.

Consistency is Key

In order for people to reap the rewards of giving, their acts must be consistent. A type of generosity practice sustained over time through bodily behaviors and repeat acts can have exponential positive benefits.

Investing in overall happiness through meaningful work, relationships and benevolent acts all contribute to a happier healthier society.

Three Degrees of Altruism 

Many exciting new studies provide a fascinating insight into the science of giving. Emerging research shows when one person behaves generously that it then inspires observers to do so later toward others.

Altruism spreads by three degrees, resulting in large influential networks that can ultimately effect hundreds of people some of whom the original instigators of the good deed never even meet (Christakis, Fowler).

The Giving Conundrum 

The paradox becomes a bit chicken or the egg in that the more healthy and happy a person is the more likely they are inclined to acts of generosity and through those acts, they become happier and healthier.

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Whereas people suffering from depression, in need of acts of kindness and the least motivated toward acts of benevolence are the most likely to benefit the most from doing so for others.

If people aren’t shown kindness and generosity they are less inclined to contribute such efforts themselves and it works against the positive system.

New studies continue to increase public awareness around the direct benefits of giving causing an increase in happiness and overall health and sense of wellbeing. The giving movement continues to gain momentum contributing to an overall healthier happier environment.

REFERENCE LIST:

Christakis, Nicholas & Fowler, James. (March 23, 2010) Cooperative Behavior Cascades in Human Social Networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) vol. 107 no. 12 5334-5338

Davidson, Hilary & Smith, Christian. The Paradox of Generosity. (2014, September 1) Oxford University Press

Lyubomirsky, Sonja. Happiness for a Lifetime. (2010, July 15) Retrieved from https://youtu.be/0EJIaTFfBss

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Moll, Jorge. Findings at the National Institute of Health. (2010, December 13) Retrieved from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/5_ways_giving_is_good_for_you

Norton, Michael. Five Ways Giving is Good for You (2010, December 13) Retrieved from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/5_ways_giving_is_good_for_you

Smith, Christian. Notre Dame Science of Generosity Initiative. (2009, December 17) Retrieved from https://generosityresearch.nd.edu/more-about-the-initiative/

Featured photo credit: https://pixabay.com/en/users/tpsdave-12019/ via pixabay.com

More by this author

Rebecca Smith

Copywriter, Freelancer, Short Fiction

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Published on June 30, 2020

What Is Unconscious Bias (And How to Reduce It for Good)

What Is Unconscious Bias (And How to Reduce It for Good)

Many conversations are being held nowadays regarding unconscious bias, but what does it really mean and how can it affect your life and the people around you? With many types of biases, it can get quite confusing. In this article, we’ll touch on cognitive bias, and then zero in on unconscious bias. Both types of biases have an immediate impact on your life because they relate to how you and others think about yourself and other people.

If you want to protect your relationships and make good decisions about other people, you need to know what these biases mean[1]. Once we have clarity about that, we can explore in more depth unconscious bias and how to address it[2].

Cognitive Bias

Let’s start with cognitive bias[3], a predictable pattern of mental errors that result in us misperceiving reality and, as a result, deviating away from the most likely way of reaching our goals[4].

These mental blind spots impact all areas of our life, from health to relationships and even shopping, as a study recently revealed[5]. In other words, from the perspective of what is best for us as individuals, falling for a cognitive bias always harms us by lowering our probability of getting what we want.

Cognitive biases have to do with judgment, not mood. Ironically, cognitive biases — such as the optimism bias and overconfidence effect — more often lead to positive moods. Of course, the consequence of falling into cognitive biases, once discovered, usually leaves us in a bad mood due to the disastrous results of these dangerous judgment errors.

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Unconscious Bias

Unconscious bias is different from cognitive bias. Also known as implicit bias, it refers to unconscious forms of discrimination and stereotyping based on race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, ability, age, and so on[6]. Despite cognitive biases sometimes leading to discriminatory thinking and feeling patterns, these are two separate and distinct concepts.

Cognitive biases are common across humankind and relate to the particular wiring of our brains, while unconscious bias relates to perceptions between different groups and are specific for the society in which we live. For example, I bet you don’t care or even think about whether someone is a noble or a commoner, yet that distinction was fundamentally important a few centuries ago across Europe. To take another example, most people in the US don’t have strong feelings about Sunni vs. Shiite Muslims, yet this distinction is incredibly meaningful in many parts of the world.

Unconscious Bias and Discriminatory Behavior

Organizations often bring me in as a speaker on diversity and inclusion to address potential unconscious discriminatory behavior. When I share in speeches that black Americans suffer from police harassment and violence at a much higher rate than white people, some participants (usually white) occasionally try to defend the police by claiming that black people are more violent and likely to break the law than whites. They thus attribute police harassment to the internal characteristics of black people (implying that it is deserved), and not to the external context of police behavior.

In reality – as I point out in my response to these folks – research shows that black people are harassed and harmed by police at a much higher rate for the same kind of activity. A white person walking by a cop, for example, is statistically much less likely to be stopped and frisked than a black one[7].

At the other end of things, a white person resisting arrest is much less likely to be violently beaten than a black one. In other words, statistics show that the higher rate of harassment and violence against black Americans by police is due to the prejudice of the police officers, at least to a large extent[8].

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However, I am careful to clarify that this discrimination is not necessarily intentional. Sometimes, it indeed is deliberate, with white police officers consciously believing that black Americans deserve much more scrutiny than whites. At other times, the discriminatory behavior results from unconscious, implicit thought processes that the police officer would not consciously endorse[9].

After becoming aware that unconscious bias does exist, the next step would be learning how to recognize it in order to reduce it. I’ve outlined three crucial points to keep in mind below while further exploring the unconscious prejudice discussed above.

How to Reduce Unconscious Bias

Remember these three important points if you want to work on reducing your unconscious bias.

1. Unconscious Bias is a Systemic Issue

When we understand that unconscious bias is ultimately a systemic issue, we understand that internal cultures need to be checked and addressed first.

Interestingly, research shows that many black police officers have an unconscious prejudice against other black people, perceiving them in a more negative light than white people when evaluating potential suspects. This unconscious bias carried by many — not all — black police officers helps show that such prejudices come – at least to a significant extent – from internal cultures within police departments, rather than pre-existing racist attitudes present before someone joins a police department.

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Such cultures are perpetuated by internal norms, policies, and training procedures, and any police department wishing to address unconscious bias needs to address internal culture first and foremost, rather than attributing racism to individual officers.

In other words, instead of saying it’s a few bad apples in a barrel of overall good ones, the key is recognizing that unconscious bias is a systemic issue, and the structure and joints of the barrel needs to be fixed[10].

2. There Is No Shame in Unconscious Bias

Another crucial thing that needs to be highlighted is that there is no shame or blame in unconscious bias as it’s not stemming from any fault in the individual. This no-shame approach decreases the fight, freeze, or flight defensive response among reluctant audiences, helping them hear and accept the issue.

Unconscious bias is prevalent and often doesn’t match our conscious values. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs and prejudices stemming from our tendency to categorize people into social groups. This developed naturally as a way for our ancestors to quickly size up a possible threat. Unfortunately, it doesn’t translate well in modern life.

3. It Takes a Sustained Effort to Prevent and Protect Against Unconscious Bias

After being presented with additional statistics and discussion of unconscious bias, the issue is generally settled. Still, from their subsequent behavior it’s clear that some of these audience members don’t immediately internalize this evidence. It’s much more comforting for their gut reactions to believe that police officers are right and anyone targeted by police deserves it; in turn, they are highly reluctant to accept the need to focus more efforts and energy on protecting black Americans from police violence due to the structural challenges facing these groups.

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The issue of unconscious bias doesn’t match their intuitions, so they reject this concept, despite extensive and strong evidence for its pervasive role in policing. It takes a series of subsequent follow-up conversations and interventions to move the needle. A single training is almost never sufficient, both in my experience and according to research[11].

Conclusion

The examples and points raised illustrate broader patterns you need to follow to recognize unconscious bias. Only by doing so will you be able to determine if, and what type of, intervention is needed to address it.

Unfortunately, our gut reactions lead us to make poor judgment choices when we simply follow our intuitions. Unconscious biases are systemic and need to be addressed in order to make the best decisions[12].

We need to learn about the kind of problems that result from unconscious bias. Then, you need to develop the right mental habits to help you make the best choices[13]. A one-time training is insufficient for doing so. It takes a long-term commitment and constant discipline and efforts to overcome unconscious bias, so get started now.

More Tips on Overcoming Unconscious Bias

Featured photo credit: M.T ElGassier via unsplash.com

Reference

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