TODAY   |  December 06, 2013

Psychologist: Kindness can be contagious

Psychologist Dale Atkins and Laura Schroff, author of “An Invisible thread,” say that acts of kindness may actually trigger psychological responses that motivate us to pay it forward.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> with more of "today" with so many acts of kindness happening around the country and the man that let $1,000 rain down on the malls in america to anonymous people leaving tips for people across the country, $54,000 and counting.

>> to the most recent story that surfaced about the late paul walker . ten years ago the fast and furious star was in a jewelry store where he overheard a soldier and his wife say they couldn't afford the wedding ring she wanted. the couple left only to be called back by a store employee.

>> when we walked in, the clerk came out holding the bag and said here's your ring. it was bought and paid for in full. and i -- i just -- out of utter amazement and gratitude. here is gratitude.

>> that is such a lovely thing. and with his passing, the couple and store employees wanted people to know about his good deed. so what makes people want to perform random acts of kindness for others? and does it cause others to pay it forward? here to answer the questions are our psychologist dale atkins and laura shroth, the author of a great book called "the invisible thread ."

>> we both loved.

>> we sure did.

>> when i watch a piece of video like we've been showing, it makes you want to go out and do something. it triggers it, doesn't it?

>> it does trigger it. what happens is we feel what that person feels. and you say if they can do it, i can do it. and you are, even if you're not doing the act of kindness at that moment, your brain is changing. your heart rate is going to come down, your immune system is going to be strengthened.

>> it's an endorvein'.

>> you get a helper's high. even if you are watching.

>> and laura, you did this for this young man. you thoit it was an initial lovely thing when you started to feed him a little bit. next thing you know, a homeless kid, i assume everybody knows this book. he's become a life long friend to you.

>> yeah, 27 years ago. you know, when i think about it, it was just a small act of kindness. young boy was hungry. and i took him to lunch. and before we knew it, we developed a friendship that's lasted over 27 years.

>> one of my favorite parts of your book is when he wanted -- you asked if he wanted lunch money or if he wanted a bag lunch and he said, no, i want a bag lunch because i want them at school to know someone cares about me. someone packed it for me. it was so moving.

>> a friend of mine was walking on the george washington bridge yesterday and saw a woman very distraught. she got to the top and was -- and my friend was able to talk her out of it. get the police there. can you imagine? there are no coincidences, right?

>> no.

>> but your story has triggered so many people to do -- to have -- perform acts of kindness.

>> i never could have imagined when the book came out, you know, where it would go and what it would do. but it is a book that is inspirational. and what i am seeing is how people are inspired to want to make a difference. they see that you don't have to save the world . you don't have to empty your bank account . but you can fact do a simple gesture that can make a difference.

>> one person.

>> one of my favorite stories is a young girl 11 years old, she read the book with her mother. she made me her hero. and after visiting with her school about two weeks later, she was driving out of a shopping center and saw a man with a sign asking for diapers and milk for his child. and she said i thought about your book. and i made my mom go back to the store and buy diapers and milk for this man. and that simple act of kindness, that gesture, will stay with her --

>> for the rest of her life.

>> it will stay with her and stay with the man who was the recipient. the interesting thing about the contagion of kindness sakts that when you do something for somebody, the person you do it for is likely to do it for three or four other people.

>> wow.

>> so this keeps multiplying. and when you say that, you know, you may not change world, you are changing the world. and we are changing the world one act of kindness at a time. one person at a time.

>> and you get hooked, it's like a hichlt once do you that. it's like going to a soup kitchen . you want to do it the next week. it just gives you so much more than you give.

>> that's true. you know, winston churchill talked about, he has a wonderful quote. it's we make a living by what we get. but we have a life, we make a life by what we give. and we have the opportunity to give. it changes us and changes our world.

>> just as your book is now doing for so many people.

>> way want to thank you