What Psychological Research Says about the Positive Side of Human Nature

By Perry, Susan | MinnPost.com, December 13, 2019 | Go to article overview

What Psychological Research Says about the Positive Side of Human Nature


Perry, Susan, MinnPost.com


We live in angry, rancorous times. As we learn about yet another hate crime or listen to politicians shouting and ranting on television or read a long stream of nasty social media posts, it’s easy to become discouraged — and to despair about human nature.

Anger — and the destructive ugliness that accompanies it — may be on the rise, but as Fred Rogers, the gentle host of the PBS children’s show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” famously reminded his young viewers (and the rest of us), humans are also good and kind.

“My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping,’” he said. “To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.”

Mr. Rogers’ advice about looking for the helpers reverberated in my mind earlier this week after I read a BPS Research Digest article on “10 Psychology Findings that Reveal the Better Side of Humanity.” Hosted by the British Psychological Society, the BPS Research Digest is a blog that summarizes the latest research on the brain and behavior.

As Matthew Warren, editor of the blog, notes, this article is a follow-up to one published last year on the 10 psychological findings that reveal the worst of human nature.

Last year’s article pointed readers to research that “has shown us to be dogmatic and over-confident, … with a tendency to look down on minorities and assume that the downtrodden deserve their fate,” Warren writes. “Even young children take pleasure in the suffering of others.”

“But that’s only half of the story,” he adds. “Every day, people around the world fight against injustices, dedicate time and resources to helping those less fortunate than them, or just perform simple acts of kindness that brighten the lives of those around them. And psychology has as much to say about this brighter side of humanity as it does the darker one.”

This year, therefore, Warren decided to emphasize that brighter side. Here (with a nod from me to Mr. Rogers) are some of the highlights from his article:

Some theories suggest that we are all, in fact, altruistic by nature

We’re all predisposed to help others, according to some researchers. Even in the presence of strangers who we may never see again, we regularly act for the benefit of the group and punish those who don’t, even if it comes at a personal expense — a behaviour sometimes called “strong reciprocity”. …

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