Do people learn to deal with stress better when they are more helpful and less selfish towards their partner? Researchers at the University of Basel showed in an experiment that this is the case.
The Corona crisis makes it clear: people are by nature capable of showing consideration for others, helping one another and being compassionate. But you can also display selfish behavior – whistle on the mouth and nose protection, continue to meet a large group of friends or keep your distance while shopping.
A team led by psychologist Andrew Gloster from the University of Basel has now investigated how cooperation can be promoted in an experiment with 126 couples. The researchers used a 15-minute so-called acceptance and commitment training (ACT), which is intended to increase psychological flexibility. This in turn helps to cope better with everyday stress, as Gloster showed in an earlier study.
Less selfish in the “dictator game”
The Basel team divided the couples into three groups: In the first group, both partners received the training, in the second only one of the two, in the third no one.
After a week, the researchers asked the test participants to play the so-called “dictator game”. Each of the test participants received 146 francs and was allowed to share the money with their partner. Whether and how much was up to them.
Result: The ACT exercises reduced selfish behavior by 35 percent, as the researchers report in the specialist journal “Scientific Reports”. Accordingly, the couples who received the training distributed the money most fairly. On the other hand, 81 percent of those who behaved unfairly had not received any training.
Also more helpful in everyday life
But can the results be transferred to everyday life? To investigate this, the researchers gave the test participants smartphones to take home. During a week they reported how often they helped their partner or they were helped. These were attentions in everyday life and personal gifts, depending on what the test subjects considered important.
Accordingly, the training increased altruistic behavior by 28 percent. The effect was most visible when both partners had received the training, Gloster said in an interview with the Keystone-SDA news agency.
Whether the study results can be transferred to larger groups such as work colleagues or sports teams cannot be answered with the current experiment. “But I very much hope so,” said Gloster. Nevertheless, the researchers think that the short training can form a basis for promoting a change towards more social behavior in communities.