Skip to content

Doing This One Thing Will Make You Less of a Jerk, Say Psychologists

Here's why being near children—or even thinking about them—can change how you view the world.

According to a 2015 article in The Atlantic, behaving like a jerk can indeed help you go a long way in life. The story observes that the "takers" of the world—the jerks who take from the "givers," otherwise known as nice people—game the system with a brazen sense of entitlement. They justify their less-than-compassionate behavior—and immunize themselves from any backlash—through a skewed lens of moral reasoning. They're narcissistic. They "kiss up" to superiors while "kicking down" to everyone else. You know… They're jerks.

While this sort of jerkdom may be effective for climbing the corporate ladder and building a successful business empire, research has shown that it can be toxic to your relationships—at work and at home—and it's unlikely to result in anything resembling sustained happiness. In fact, a new study published in the July 2021 edition of the journal Personality and Individual Differences found that the biggest sign of true narcissist isn't even the drive for power or the quest to have an upper-hand over others, but it's rather driven by a strong desire to overcompensate for deep-rooted feelings of insecurity.

In other words: They actually despise themselves.

So there are indeed mental health-related downsides to behaving like a jerk. That being said, wherever you exist on the scale of nice-person-vs-mean-person, if you'd like to take steps to be a more generous and caring person, a new study just published by researchers at the UK's University of Bath and Cardiff University offers at least one way to go about it. Read on for more about what it is. And for more on the science of your mind, see here The Secret Trick for Catching a Liar Every Time, Say Psychologists.

It's About Children

kids eating

The study, just published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science, involved eight experiments and 2,000 participants. The test subjects were asked to "describe what typical children are like," said the study's release. Simply asking people to think about children made them slightly more compassionate. "After focusing on children in this way, participants subsequently indicated higher motivations towards compassionate values, such as helpfulness and social justice, and they reported greater empathy with the plight of other adults," said the study.

But when they took their experiment outside, they were surprised by the results…

Being Near Kids Makes You Less of a Jerk

Mother with daughter and son among fans at stadium

When study participants were exposed to children in the wild—and were simply near them on the street—they behaved in nicer ways. "The researchers found that adult passers-by on a shopping street were more likely to donate to charity when more children were around relative to adults," said the study. And for more news from the front-lines of science, see here for One Secret Sign Someone Is Sexually Attracted to You, According to Science.

If Kids Weren't Around…

Woman standing amidst a busy office going crowd hooked to their mobile phones. Businesswoman holding her hand bag standing still on a busy street with people walking past her using mobile phones.

When the test subjects were only surrounded by other adults on the street, they behaved differently. "A student research team from the University of Bath observed roughly one donation every ten minutes" when no children were present, said the study. "But when children and adults were equally present on the shopping street, adult passers-by made two donations every ten minutes."

What's more, the effect was the same on all adults, regardless of gender, age, and whether or not the adult who was being observed was a parent or not.

"Our findings showing the importance of children for compassionate behavior in society provide a glimpse of a much bigger impact," remarked Lukas Wolf, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychology at Bath. "Children are indirectly dependent on how adults behave towards each other and towards the planet. Yet, children are also separated from many adult environments, such as workplaces and from political bodies where important decisions affect their futures."

What You Can Do About It

girl thinking

"The finding that the presence of children motivates adults to be more compassionate towards others calls for more integration of children in contexts where adults make important long-term decisions, such as on climate change," said Wolf.

So if you can make it a point to be around children more, you'll find that your feelings of generosity and compassion will grow. But if you only think about what children are like—and remind yourself of their goodness and innocence—you'll get a nice mental boost, as well. And for more psychology news you can use to live a better life, see here for The Secret Reason You Never Get Anything Done, According to Psychologists.

William Mayle
William Mayle is a UK-based writer who specializes in science, health, fitness, and other lifestyle topics. Read more about William
Filed Under