17 March 2023

Kindness Aids Depression

Welcome back. Here’s one that may come as a surprise. A recent study by Ohio State University researchers found that performing acts of kindness led to improvements in depression and anxiety…of the performer. Social connection is strongly associated with well-being, and kindness was the only intervention tested that helped people feel more connected to others.

Comparing Three Techniques
The study was designed to compare acts of kindness with two techniques often used in cognitive behavioral therapy: planning social activities and cognitive reappraisal.

Cognitive behavioral therapy: a short-term form of psychotherapy based on the idea that the way someone thinks and feels affects the way he or she behaves (see www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapy-types/cognitive-behavioral-therapy;figure from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_behavioral_therapy).
After selection and screening, the final sample of participants for testing consisted of 122 community adults and undergraduates (age 18 to 78, average 25; 76% female; 62% White; 17% Asian; 7% Black; 7% Hispanic or Latino/Latina; 7% Multiracial).

Each participant met at least one of the three cutoffs for mild severity of anxiety, depression or stress symptoms on the DASS-21, a 21-item scale composed of subscales for self-rating the three emotional states. Notably, 24% of the participants met criteria for severe depression, 37% for severe anxiety and 24% for severe stress.

The 122 participants were randomly assigned to one of the three conditions: acts of kindness, social activities or cognitive reappraisal.

Random allocation of 122 participants to three conditions and changes through study (from figure 2, www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17439760.2022.2154695).
For acts of kindness, participants were instructed to perform three acts of kindness each day for two days/week. Acts of kindness were defined as big or small acts that benefit others or make others happy, typically at some cost to the participant in time or resources.

For social activities, participants were instructed to plan social activities for two days/week. Social activities were defined as big or small activities intentionally planned with other people for enjoyment.

For cognitive reappraisal, participants were instructed to complete thought records for at least two days/week, though they could complete them more frequently if they chose. Participants were given a step-by-step guide for using thought records.

All participants were asked to engage in their assigned activity for five weeks and complete weekly online measures of several outcomes: perceived social support, extent they felt 20 emotions, life satisfaction, public and private self-absorption, and social connectedness. After two weeks, the participants were contacted for review; after five weeks, they were evaluated again and invited to complete a follow-up assessment in another five weeks to see if the interventions were still effective.

Wrap Up
All three groups showed increased life satisfaction and reduced depression and anxiety after the 10 weeks of the study. Yet, acts of kindness showed advantages over both cognitive reappraisal and social activities for social connection, the primary study outcome. Collectively, the results provide converging evidence with previous research that acts of kindness may be a promising intervention.

Average weekly scores of Social Connectedness Scale--Revised for Cognitive Reappraisal (CR), Social Activities (SA) and Acts of Kindness (AK) experimental conditions; averages are unadjusted raw scores, error bars are standard errors (from figure 3, www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17439760.2022.2154695).
The authors emphasize that while the study used cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques, it is not the same as going through CBT, which may have better results. Nevertheless, the findings show that even the limited CBT exposure given in the study can be helpful.

Thanks for stopping by.


Study of healing through kindness from The Journal of Positive Psychology: www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17439760.2022.2154695s
Article on study on EurekAlert! website: www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/976063

DASS-21, Depression Anxiety and Stress Scales, 21-item version from Lovibond, S.H. & P.F. Lovibond, 1995. Manual for the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales. (2nd. Ed.) Sydney: Psychology Foundation. ISBN 7334-1423-0.
DASS-21 rating scale: maic.qld.gov.au/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/DASS-21.pdf
Social Connectedness Scale–Revised: psycnet.apa.org/record/2001-07409-008?doi=1

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