You're Not as Nice as You Think You Are

Your actions really do speak louder than words. EduardSV/Shutterstock

You're likely a relatively nice person — but you're not nearly as nice as you think you are.

British researchers studied people's "nice" behaviors and found that 98 percent of people think they're part of the nicest 50 percent of the population. Obviously, they can't all be right.

Participants were given a list of nice behaviors and asked how often they do them. They included things like giving directions to a stranger, holding the elevator door, giving up your seat on public transit to an elderly or pregnant woman, and helping someone carry heavy bags.

Two-thirds admitted they never help carry bags or let a neighbor they didn't know very well borrow something like tools or dishes. Twenty percent wouldn't hold an elevator door for a stranger and less than a quarter donate blood or would help an acquaintance move or work on a DIY project.

Then the participants were taken into a lab where they were exposed to footage of situations like overcrowded transit stations, crying children and high-pressure interviews or exams. Their reactions were recorded by a tool called Facereader which picks up on microexpressions like brow furrowing, lip movement or eye twitching — movements that might not be noticed by the human eye. In another lab test, volunteers listened to loud, annoying noises through headphones until they couldn't take it anymore. (This was meant to simulate a stressful situation.)

"The lab sessions provided positive qualitative demonstrations in support of the hypothesis that ‘nice’ participants — or those with a higher level of [emotional intelligence], empathy and altruism — were able to endure stress, and maintain more composure when presented with difficult situations," the authors wrote.

Does nicer mean smarter, healthier and richer?

The study, done in partnership with Monarch Airlines, was performed to see if there was a connection between being nice and how healthy, happy and successful people are. People who rated themselves as nice reported being happier, healthier and more fulfilled in their careers. They also were more able to deal with stress. They also tend to make more money and be smarter.

“Our study shows that participants who report that they are ‘nice’ scored higher on emotional intelligence – which can help them deal better with stress and chaos in their lives,” Professor Jonathan Freeman, who led the study, told the Independent.

Losing your nice

angry, rude driver
Rudeness is one of the major triggers that will make people reveal their darker side. Olaf Speier/Shutterstock

No matter how nice you really are, some things just make it tougher to show it. For the study, researchers asked participants which situations are tipping points that make them "lose their nice."

Nearly three-quarters of them said rudeness, followed by losing an important item or document (59 percent), bad service (57 percent) and discourteous or inconsiderate behavior (54 percent).

But no matter what makes people no longer nice, they seem to hold a pretty high opinion of their niceness in the first place.

“We observed a really interesting result in relation to people’s ratings of how nice they are, and how they scored on validated measures of individual differences,” Freeman said.

“For example, more than half of participants who rated themselves as the second-highest level of nice scored below the sample average on agreeableness — so people think they’re nicer than they really may be.”