In the wake of the Newtown shootings, social interactions between students is gaining more attention, with some experts saying that the way students treat each other can be a determining factor in a school's overall well-being. And now research from Kristin Layous, a psychologist at the University of California, Riverside may show that students who are kind to their peers experience an individual benefit — a boost in popularity.
In an observational study of students in Vancouver, British Columbia, researchers had students aged 9-11 perform three acts of kindness per week over the course of a month, while others visited three places. Results showed that:
"Students in both conditions improved in well-being, but students who performed kind acts experienced significantly bigger increases in peer acceptance (or sociometric popularity) than students who visited places."
In short, students demonstrating kindness reaped benefits of their own as their peers recognized their efforts and rewarded them socially.
There appears to be a reciprocal link between student happiness and positive behavior. Happier students tend to be kinder to others, and extending kindness to peers results in happier students.
Research involving children on this topic is sparse, however, and academics see this as an initial step to understanding not only the behavior of students, but how we might design schools and classrooms to take advantage of it.
The dearth of work on enhancing happiness and prosociality in youth, coupled with evidence of their many benefits, highlights the desirability of extending research to this age group.
The report's abstract concludes that schools can build on this phenomenon to improve interaction among students and strengthen a school's culture.
After the experiment, students reported on their happiness levels as well as outlining their circle of friends. The children who visited places reported an increase in happiness compared to normal, but they did not experience the same boost in popularity among their peers. Students demonstrating kindness saw an increase of ~1.6 peers counting them as friends, while those visiting places saw an increase of .7.
Student happiness did not appear to draw in friends, though — there was no reported increase in the number of peers counting one as a friend just because one reported a higher level of happiness, suggesting that happiness and a positive attitude itself isn't enough to improve one's social standing. Spreading good feeling to peers seems to be a necessary action to improving classroom cohesion.
With this in mind, the researchers state that the school environment can be improved by working in more social activities that just might give students opportunities to infect others with kindness.
"Teachers and interventionists can build on this study by introducing intentional prosocial activities into classrooms and recommending that such activities be performed regularly and purposefully."