Several years ago, National Public Radio invited listeners to submit stories of good deeds. Many submissions featured tales of kindness among children. For example, one story involved a child that held the hand of a nervous boy on the first day of school. Another story highlighted a young boy who gave a less fortunate classmate his extra jacket during the cold winter months. These stories are not unusual –– they speak to the ordinary kindness of human nature.
Recently, a body of research has converged on the conclusion that humans are “born to be good,” a notion that offers much promise and hope. Yet, a parallel line of research has demonstrated that thinking of any quality as inherent may discourage development and growth. The proposed work bridges these two lines of research by asking whether, and how, children thinking about kindness as inherent may stand in the way of them developing more enduring kindness.
Our work is grounded in research on mindsets. When people think about any quality, they may believe that it is built in or fixed by nature (a fixed mindset) or developed through nurture and their own persistent efforts (a growth mindset). Research abounds with examples of how adopting a growth compared to a fixed mindset matters, from success in academics and productivity at work to stronger social relationships and improved emotional health. By exploring the role of mindsets on children's kindness, this work seeks to illuminate strategies for cultivating kindness that can be easily employed at home, school, and beyond.
The proposed research will use classic and contemporary methods in developmental and social psychology to address foundational and timely issues within academic and public spheres. We expect our research to generate novel insights––disseminated via conference presentations, journal articles, and pieces in the popular media––that will stimulate further exploration on how we can be kinder from early on in life.