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The Giving Experiment

The Giving Experiment

Tis’ the season for giving! We hope you’ll give many gifts this holiday season, but the gifts we’re suggesting don’t involve any shopping or pretty packages. It’s in our nature to think BIG when it comes to gift giving this time of year, but we want you to think small -- at least for a moment. To complete the Giving Experiment, you will need two things: a recipient and a small act of kindness. Seems boring and simple? Maybe so, but it’s also extraordinarily powerful.


Swimming Upstream Together


In the early 2000’s, researchers began to explore if giving to others actually led to more giving, making the world a happier place. As it turns out, giving really does in fact lead to more giving. The term is known as “upstream reciprocity” which basically states when we are the recipient of a small act of kindness, we are much more likely to do a kind act for someone else. Some of you will recognize this as pay-it-forward, social contagion, or three-degrees of influence.

Even more fantastic, when people witness strangers giving to other strangers, they in turn become more generous to strangers as well. If you have children, you know that they follow what you do more than what you say. Children want to give to others when they see their parents give. Generosity multiplies generosity. Pretty cool huh? It’s easy to understand why we should give, but you may be wondering if this giving is really necessary to do in-person? After all, there are plenty of charitable causes and ways to help people without ever seeing them.

Real World Giving

During the holiday season, we have been culturally prompted to give to our family and close friends. How wonderful is that! We will probably give gifts to our loved ones no matter what. But what about strangers? Will we give to them? You may already give to a canned food drive so someone can have a nice Christmas dinner or donate a toy to a child in need. Should you do more than that? Stanford University professor Alexander Genevsky and colleagues uncovered the answer by studying a phenomenon known as the “identifiable victim effect.” In essence, this study shows us that we will give more when we can see who we are giving to. Participants in Genevsky’s study gave much more to orphans when they saw their faces in person versus participants who only saw a photo or a name. Seeing who we are helping gives us more compassion, makes us feel good for giving, and prompts us to give more. Plus, in this world of texting and messaging, so much human contact is lost. Seeing into the eyes of others is essential for deepening the experience of both the giver and the recipient.

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