Strange, as it may sound but being ‘cruel to be kind’ really works
A new study at University of Plymouth has found that making someone feel negative emotions actually proves to be beneficial in the long run.Updated: May 25, 2017 14:57 IST
Can making people feel bad really help them? Yes, according to a recent study.
The findings suggested that people may try to make someone else feel negative emotions if they think experiencing those emotions will be beneficial in the long run.
“We have shown that people can be ‘cruel to be kind,” that is, they may decide to make someone feel worse if this emotion is beneficial for that other person, even if this does not entail any personal benefit for them,” explained researcher Dr Belen Lopez-Perez from the University of Plymouth. “These results expand our knowledge of the motivations underlying emotion regulation between people.”
“We identified several everyday examples where this might be the case, for instance, inducing fear of failure in a loved one who is procrastinating instead of studying for an exam,” Lopez-Perez noted.
The researchers hypothesized that prompting participants to take another person’s perspective might make them more likely to choose a negative experience for that person if they thought the experience would help the individual reach a specific goal.
To test their hypothesis, they recruited 140 adults to participate in a lab-based study that involved playing a computer game with an anonymous partner, known as Player A. In reality, the participants were always assigned the role of Player B and there was no actual Player A.
After receiving a note supposedly written by Player A, some participants were asked to imagine how Player A felt, while others were told to remain detached. The note described Player A’s recent breakup and how upset and helpless Player A felt about it.
Then, participants were asked to play a video game so they could then make decisions for Player A on how the game would be presented. Depending on the experimental condition participants were assigned to, half were asked to play Soldier of Fortune, a first-person shooter game with an explicit goal of killing as many enemies as possible (i.e., confrontation goal). The other half were asked to play Escape Dead Island, a first-person game with the explicit goal of escaping from a room of zombies (i.e., avoidance goal).
After playing the assigned game, the participants listened to some music clips and read short game descriptions that varied in their emotional content. The participants used scales to rate how much they wanted their partner to listen to each clip and read each description (from 1 = not at all to 7 = extremely). They also rated the extent to which they wanted their partner to feel angry, fearful, or neutral and how useful these emotions would be in playing the game.
The players were awarded raffle tickets for a chance at winning 50 pounds based on their performance in the game, participants were reminded that their choices might impact the other participants’ performance and, therefore, their own chances of winning the 50 pounds.
The results showed that the participants who empathized with Player A focused on inducing specific emotions in their partner, depending on the ultimate goal of their computer game.
Compared with participants who had remained detached, those who empathized with Player A and who played the first-person shooter game seemed to focus specifically on inducing anger in Player A explicitly and implicitly (i.e., by choosing the anger-inducing music clips and game description), while those who had empathized with Player A and who played the zombie game focused specifically on inducing fear (i.e., by choosing the fear-inducing music clips and game description).
The study suggests that empathy led people to choose particular negative emotional experiences that they believed would ultimately help their partner be successful in the context of the game.
“These findings shed light on social dynamics, helping us to understand, for instance, why we sometimes may try to make our loved ones feel bad if we perceive this emotion to be useful to achieve a goal,” Lopez-Perez concluded.
The study is published in Psychological Science.
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First Published: May 25, 2017 14:26 IST