Business and Entrepreneurship Research

Climate change and Covid-19 could be tackled through new human behaviour research

The first study of its kind about low cost everyday acts of kindness between people, providing clear indications about how social mindfulness can be utilised
13 September 2021

New research by London South Bank University (LSBU) and an international consortium of researchers around the world has uncovered new insights into cultural differences in ‘social mindfulness’.

Social mindfulness is defined as everyday acts of kindness towards strangers which have little cost or no cost to the individual, but matter greatly for the collective. Social mindfulness measures the extent to which someone is considering the impact of one’s own behaviour on others. It includes small things like deciding to wear a face mask when shopping because it protects others from Covid-19 or a person not dropping litter in a park because they consider the feelings of other park users.

The research compared 31 countries on all six continents and how social mindfulness relates to national differences such as environmental protection, economic competitiveness, education levels and power distance. The research reported results of a global study of 8,354 people from 31 countries around the world who live in modern, industrialised, and digitalised societies and found:

  • There are big differences between people in different countries about how much they consider other individuals’ needs at little or no personal cost. Of the 31 countries, the highest level of social mindfulness was found in Japan and the lowest in Indonesia, with the UK ranking 12th out of 31, behind Germany and ahead of France.
  • Nationally, higher social mindfulness is associated with higher levels of parental education of participants, less hierarchical structures in society, higher economic prosperity (in GDP and gross national income per capita), higher adherence to the rule of law, and higher national performance on environmental protection.
  • Social mindfulness was lower in countries with higher income inequality (Gini index) and higher reported religious beliefs.
  • Social mindfulness can be connected with issues of global importance such as national environmental performance. It is associated with higher adherence to the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) which uses 32 indicators to assess national levels of environmental health, biodiversity, energy, water resources, agriculture and air pollution across the globe.

The full results of the research were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) and are freely available.

Karin Moser, LSBU Professor of Organisational Behaviour, said, “Our global study is the first of its kind about low cost everyday acts of kindness between people. It provides clear indications about how social mindfulness could contribute to reducing the risks we face from global issues such as the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change.

“Higher social mindfulness means people are more likely to consider the impact on others when making their choices and change their behaviour, for example cutting carbon emissions or reducing the chance of infecting others with Covid-19. As the government prepares to host the leaders of 200 countries at COP26, they should do everything within their power to encourage higher levels of social mindfulness.”