Doing things for others without expecting anything in return has been shown to make us feel good. But Chinese researchers have found it may have other positive benefits too.
Altruistic behaviour, they claim in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may help people feel less pain than they would otherwise. So how exactly did they figure this out?
The first experiment involved volunteers donating blood. Some were giving blood after an earthquake, while others gave blood when there were no recent disasters. To be fair, both sets of volunteers were giving something without expecting anything in return. But interestingly those giving blood to help earthquake victims said the process of donating – specifically the pain of the needle – hurt less than those donating blood without a specific aim in mind.
Experiment number two looked at volunteers who were exposed to cold conditions. Those who were asked to help revise a handbook for migrant children reported lower levels of discomfort from the cold than those who didn’t take part in the handbook revision task. Another group of volunteers – this time cancer patients who were experiencing pain – cooked and cleaned for other people, while others only cooked and cleaned for themselves. And guess what? Those who helped others reported lower pain levels than the non-helping group.
A fourth experiment saw some volunteers donating money to orphans, while others weren’t asked to give anything. All the volunteers underwent a brain scan while being subjected to mild electrical shocks. The money donating volunteers were asked to think about how their contributions might help the orphans. And when they did, the scans showed that their brains responded less to the shock.
One way to help others – especially if, like many of us, you don’t have much cash to spare – is to volunteer. To find volunteering opportunities where you live visit do-it.org.