It Can Pay to Do Good

A review of “If it makes you happy: Engaging in kind acts increases positive affect in socially anxious individuals.”


In a recent study, Alden and Trew (2013) examined whether doing “kind acts” (good deeds) could enhance positive mood states for those with high social anxiety. Results found that doing these kind acts not only improved positive moods, but these acts also reduced negative moods, improved participants’ relationship satisfaction, and reduced their avoidance of social situations. Moreover, this “kind acts” intervention was compared to another intervention and outperformed it. The results of this study suggest that doing good deeds can increase psychological well-being through increasing positive mood states, relationship satisfaction, and avoidance of social situations.


What were the goals of this study?

The main goals of the study were the following:

  • To examine the impact of doing kind acts on positive and negative moods among individuals with high social anxiety.
  • To compare the effects of doing kind acts with another commonly used treatment, behavioral experiments in cognitive-behavioral therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder.
  • To compare the impact of both treatments on relationship satisfaction and avoidance of social situations.
  • The examine whether the benefits of doing kind acts depends on who the recipient of the kind acts is (a stranger vs. a friend/family member)

How did the authors define kind acts and the other intervention?

Participants who were assigned to the kind acts intervention were asked to perform three acts of kindness for either a stranger or someone closer to them (e.g., friend, family member), two days per week, for four weeks. Kind acts themselves were defined as “acts that benefit others or make others happy, typically at some cost to oneself (p. 67)”. Similar to the kind acts intervention, participants assigned to the behavioral experiment intervention were asked to perform experiments on two days a week for four weeks. These experiments involved comparing how social interactions feel when they engage in behaviors that make them feel more comfortable (e.g., not talking, covering their mouth while smiling) with how they feel in situations when they do not perform these behaviors.

How did the authors examine the study goals?

The authors examined the study goals by surveying 780 undergraduates with a measure designed to assess levels of social anxiety. They then identified 250 undergraduates who scored above the cutoff on this measure, which means that they likely fit criteria for a diagnosis of Social Anxiety Disorder. One hundred and forty two of these participants agreed to participate in the study and were then randomly assigned to one of the two interventions or to a control group. Individuals assigned to the control group were just asked to keep a daily activity log, two days per week, for four weeks.

What were the main findings from this study?

There were four main findings:

  • The authors of the study found that doing kind acts both increased positive moods and reduced negative moods during the course of the study (four weeks).
  • When the authors compared these changes with the changes produced by completing behavioral experiments, the authors found that doing kind acts produced similar reductions in negative moods (no difference between the two interventions), but led to greater increases in positive moods.
  • The authors found that both interventions led to more relationship satisfaction and less social avoidance, with doing kind acts leading to slightly more changes.
  • Lastly, the authors found that the benefits of engaging in kind acts did not depend on who the recipient of the kind act was.

What are the implications of this study?

The results of this study suggest that individuals with SAD may benefit from engaging in kind acts, or good deeds, and that these benefits may include: (a) an increase in positive moods; (b) a decrease in negative moods; (c) an increase in relationship satisfaction; and (d) a decrease in avoidance of social situations. Importantly, the authors found that these benefits were found regardless of who the individual was doing kind acts for.

What does this all mean for me?

This may mean that you could experience real changes in you moods and social anxiety by trying to engage in several kind acts a week for other people, regardless of who the other people are. For example, you may find some nice benefits by opening doors for strangers who are entering or exiting a building or by helping a friend or family member put away groceries. Overall, these results suggest that your efforts to help others may also help you.

How can I learn more about this study?

If you would like to learn more about this study, please click the following link:


Alden, L. E., & Trew, J. L. (2013). If it makes you happy: Engaging in kind acts increases positive affect in socially anxious individuals. Emotion, 13(1), 64-75. doi: 10.1037/a0027761

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