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New research from Harvard University suggests that moral actions may increase people’s capacity for willpower and physical endurance. Study participants who did good deeds — or even just imagined themselves helping others — were better able to perform a subsequent task of physical endurance.
The research, published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, shows a similar or even greater boost in physical strength following mean-spirited deeds.
Gray’s findings are based on two studies. In the first, participants were given $1, and were told either to keep it or to donate it to charity. They were then asked to hold up a 5-lb. weight for as long as they could. Those who donated to charity could hold the weight up for almost 10 seconds longer, on average.
In a second study, participants held a weight while writing fictional stories of themselves either helping another, harming another, or doing something that had no impact on others. As before, those who thought about doing good were significantly stronger than those whose actions didn’t benefit other people.
But surprisingly, the would-be malefactors were even stronger than those who envisioned doing good deeds.