It has been known for a long time, since the famous experiments of Alice Isen (e.g. Isen & Levin, 1972), that feeling happy facilitates the helping of others. In the second experiment of the current study, Schnall et al. included a control group in which participants became happy at watching a television episode that was funny. The results were that participants who watched the elevation clip had more subjective feelings of elevation and also did substantially and significantly more actual helping than those who watched the funny clip. As compared with those who watched the funny clip, those who watched the elevating clip spend approximately twice as long helping the experimenter in a tedious task.
Schnall and her colleagues discuss their result in terms of empathy. A way of thinking about their result is that it arises from identification (known to be important in fiction) which is now thought to be based on empathy. Perhaps empathy prompts recognition of, and aspiration to, what Hazel Markus and Paula Nurius (1986) have called a "possible self." If, on the one hand, media-based news and fiction let us know that life is often harsh and unjust, and is sometimes tragic then, on the other hand, it can show that kindness and altruism are possible for us human beings.
Alice Isen & P. F. Levin (1972). The effect of feeling good on helping: Cookies and kindness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 21, 384-388.
Hazel Markus & Paula Nurius (1986). Possible selves. American Psychologist, 41, 954-969.
Simone Schnall. Jean Roper & Daniel Fessler (2010). Elevation leads to altruistic behavior. Psychological Science, 21, published online 29 January.