perfect, and research studies showthat giving people opportunities topractice altruism in the virtual worldtranslates to action in the real world. Arecent study [ 9] found that augmentedvirtual-reality experiences could leadto increases in real-world altruism.
Some of 60 participants who completedthe study were given the virtual powerto fly like Superman to either help asick child or tour a virtual city. At theend of the virtual-reality experience,all the participants were confronted by“someone in need of help” in the realworld. Those in the superhero/child-saving condition were significantlyfaster to act and helped more thanthose in the touring conditions. Six ofthe touring participants didn’t help atall, whereas all of the superheroes did.
This is just one example of mountingresearch linking prosocial game-playto prosocial behavior in the real world.
These studies seem to suggest thatgiving people practice in helping,or perhaps the experience of beingcapable of helping (coping ability),inspires prosociality even after theexperience is over.
Providing opportunities for theexperience of elevation. Anotherapproach to cultivating compassioncould be through inspiring it. JonathanHaidt uses the term elevation todescribe the “warm, uplifting feelingthat people experience when they seeunexpected acts of human goodness,kindness, courage, or compassion. Itmakes a person want to help othersand to become a better person himselfor herself” [ 10]. One study subject’sheartfelt description says it best: “I feltlike jumping out of the car and huggingthis guy. I felt like singing and running,or skipping and laughing. Just beingactive. I felt like saying nice thingsabout people. Writing a beautiful poemor love song. Playing in the snow likea child. Telling everybody about hisdeed” [ 10].
Users already hack their own
digital spaces to foster these feel-good
emotions by sharing articles and videos
of good Samaritan stories through
social networks—for example, the
fireman who revived an unconscious
kitten ( 21 million+ views on You Tube)
or Glen James, the homeless man
who returned $40,000 to the police
($250,000 was later crowdsourced
to buy him a home). Glen James’s
story isn’t the only evidence that
elevation transfers to action. Research
has shown that elevation inspires
volunteerism and that it can be a vector
for the spread of altruism within social
networks. Inspiration carries with it
a motivator to altruistic action that is
separate from empathy. When we are
inspired or elevated, we seem to be
motivated by a renewed feeling of faith
in human goodness and our ability to
play a part. We are also given models of
how to do so.
Supporting compassion-trainingpractices. Many interventionsfor fostering compassion involvemeditation (largely based on Buddhiststrategies developed over thousandsof years and now scientificallyvalidated). Hoffmann, Grossman,and Hinton review interventionstudies using compassion and loving-kindness meditation and conclude thatthey increase positive affect, lowernegative affect, and can help managepsychological problems, includingdepression, social anxiety, maritalconflict, anger, and coping with thestrains of long-term caregiving [ 11].
Other studies have produced resultsshowing that meditation-basedcompassion interventions increasecompassion, prosocial behavior, andoverall well-being.
While changes to the design ofdigital environments can support orincrease the likelihood of elicitingcompassion as a temporary state,efforts to cultivate compassion asa trait across the population and inthe longer term will likely involvesystematic practices like these. Just astechnologists have helped to increaseaccess to mindfulness training (viaapps and sites like SmilingMind.
com.au), digital technologies that cansupport compassion training withinschools, the workplace, or the homewill play an important role.
The potential for compassioncultivation to act as a pathwayto resilience and social change isincreasingly clear, and the capacity fordesign to play an active role in takingus down that path will surely resonatewith the growing number of designersputting their skills toward solvingcomplex social problems and makingpositive social change.
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Dorian Peters is a digital designer andwriter specializing in design for learning andwell-being. She heads online strategy for theFaculty of Education and is creative leader ofthe Positive Computing Lab at the University ofSydney. Her books include Interface Design forLearning and Positive Computing (forthcomingfrom MI T Press).→
Rafael A. Calvo is director of the SoftwareEngineering Lab at the University of Sydneyand project leader at the Young and WellCooperative Research Centre. Co-author ofPositive Computing, he focuses on the designof systems that support well-being in the areasof mental health, medicine, and education.→
email@example.comDOI: 10.1145/2647087 COPYRIGHT HELD BY AUTHORS. PUBLICATION RIGHTS LICENSED TO ACM. $15.00