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When Is It kind to do Someone feeling Bad?

Sometimes, the nicest point we deserve to do because that someone is to make them feel bad.

By Kira M. Newman | June 26, 2017


You are watching: When you feel bad for someone

Humans space constantly act nice things for every other. We carry out offer a meal or a ride. Us volunteer. Us comfort human being in your struggles.

But a new study suggests a counterintuitive means we aid others: by making them feeling bad, encouraging an adverse feelings of anger or fear.


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It’s basic to conjure up instances of how civilization make rather feel bad for your selfish benefit—think guilt-tripping or intimidation. However researchers in ~ the college of Plymouth wanted to discover if we ever before do this for more altruistic reasons, because that the other person’s benefit.




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For example, when my brother provides me a tough time because that eating too much meat, he’s making me feeling uncomfortable v seemingly an excellent intentions. When a friend has to challenge her boss over unjust treatment, i might shot to fuel she anger: That’s simply not right! You deserve better!

To watch this phenomenon in the lab, though, the researchers had to use a bit of ingenuity. They asked participants come play two video clip games—a shooter game called Soldier that Fortune or a survival game called Escape Dead Island. Here, they reasoned, certain negative emotions could be beneficial: rage could help you kill more enemies in the very first game, whereas fear can be a an effective motivator because that zombie avoidance.

After play these games, 140 adult participants to be told that they were going come make some decisions for an additional player, Player A (who, unbeknownst come them, didn’t in reality exist). Lock would get to decide how Player A all set for the game by indicating how much they want Player A to hear to various songs (which ranged from angry- to fearful- come neutral-sounding) or read various descriptions that the video game (emphasizing aspects related come aggression, survival, or vigilance).

Oh, and the catch? every the players would certainly supposedly gain raffle tickets based on their in-game performance. In other words, the much better Player A did, the worse the participants’ own opportunities of winning a prize.

Before making your decisions, though, participants were either primed to be empathic and also kind, or not. They were instructed to check out a letter from Player A—describing sad feelings over a recent breakup—in among two ways: while either keeping a detached perspective or imagining Player A’s feelings.

Ultimately, the empathic team tried to assist Player A succeed, regularly by fueling negative feelings. As soon as Player A to be going to challenge down foes in Soldier that Fortune, they wanted him to acquire pumped increase by hearne to an ext angry music and also hearing about the aggressive elements of the game; because that Escape Dead Island, they recommended much more fearful music and also descriptions that emphasized strategic evasion.

“When aiming come improve another person’s long-term well-being, human being may pick to induce a an adverse emotion in that human being in the quick term,” the researcher write. “People may choose to be cruel to be kind.”

Surveys of the participants seemed to indicate that their motives were without doubt selfless. Contrasted to the detached group, they indicated that they want Player A come feel much more anger throughout Soldier that Fortune and an ext fear during Escape Dead Island, and also that these emotions would certainly be much more useful come Player A’s success in the games. What’s striking right here is that, unlike in most everyday situations of “being devilish to it is in kind,” lock didn’t know Player A in ~ all, and their options were totally anonymous.

“Our results support considerable research on altruism and empathy showing that people assist others also when altruistic actions may not entail a personal benefit,” the researcher write.

But deserve to this strategy be overused? Is cruel kindness ever a little too cruel? If you repeat a procrastinating spouse around a looming deadline so he i will not ~ cancel day night to work, because that example, you have actually an ulterior motive—your intentionally isn’t solely selfless. Other times, us might try to to convince ourselves that the pain us inflict on rather is helpful, favor yelling in ~ a sensitive boy to “toughen the up.”

In that is true form, though, “being cruel to be kind” is a fascinating means we aid others. That employs a nuanced feeling of empathy and an artful master of when and how emotions work. And also it suggests yet again that happiness—or, in this case, kindness—isn’t always around feeling good.