From the social sciences we know that engaging in acts of kindness is very rewarding for the one initiating the act, in that these acts increase their well-being. But how does this affect the well-being of the individual receiving the act? This question has not been given as much attention as the effects on the actor’s well-being. However, research has found that some acts of kindness, namely helping behaviors, can have a negative effect on the recipient’s well-being, and in some cases enhance well-being due to feelings of closeness with the actor. The effect on the recipient is dependent on a number of factors, some of which can potentially be influenced by design.

The focus of this project will be to understand this phenomenon and to enable this through design. That is, how can design stimulate individuals to engage in sustained acts of kindness resulting in others’ well-being? Some acts of kindness under certain conditions benefit the well-being of both the actor and the recipient, and the ultimate goal of this project will be to provide design guidelines that facilitate and sustain these acts.

Research Questions

1. How does engaging in acts of kindness influence others’ well-being?

  • 1a. Which acts of kindness influence both the actor’s and recipient’s well-being?
  • 1b. When (under what conditions) do acts of kindness benefit the well-being of the recipient?
  • 1c. When (under what conditions) does the actor initiate acts of kindness?

The objective will be to map the phenomenon and identify influencing factors, facilitators, and barriers of well-being enhancing acts of kindness that can be influenced by design.

2. How can human-product experiences support acts of kindness?

The objective will be to take a design for behavior change approach and identify human-product interactions and experiences that are conducive in not only facilitating behavior change but also sustaining the change over the long term. In addition, attention will be paid to existing, and proven successful, design for behavior change methodologies. The outcome will then be applied to the acts of kindness that are identified in the previous stage.

3. How can designers influence behavioral change within the context of well-being enhancing acts of kindness?

The objective will be to synthesize the findings in the previous stages and to develop a framework and tool for designers who wish to create products or experiences that trigger long-term acts of kindness.