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Is there any real benefit of being nice?

The quality of being "nice" translates in personality psychology into the trait of agreeableness. In a new study based on the data of more than 1.9 million people, agreeableness appears to have eight important benefits.

Trying a little kindness can be good for your well-being, especially if you use that kindness judiciously.

Have you ever wondered whether someone can be too nice? Isn’t it more adaptive to be somewhat skeptical to avoid being taken advantage of? Perhaps you have an acquaintance whom you’ve offered to help on a big project. You really don’t mind offering your time as you think it would be fun as well as productive. However, this acquaintance insists that they can do it themselves. You know this is potentially going to overwhelm the other person, but it seems they’re too afraid of sapping your time and energy to take you up on your offer. A person not as nice wouldn’t hesitate and might even request more of your time than you originally intended to spend on the project. This individual, though, seems bent on making sacrifices.

In personality psychology, the quality of niceness translates into the trait of agreeableness, one of the five domains in the Five Factor Model (FFM) of personality. As defined in a new study on its adaptive value by University of Arkansas’s Michael Wilmot and University of Minnesota Twin Cities’ Deniz Ones (2022), “agreeableness is the personality trait primarily concerned with helping and building positive relationships with others” (p. 242). Although this definition seems pretty clear-cut, what’s less evident from prior research is whether agreeableness is simply the opposite of its nefarious counterpart, the Dark Triad, or whether it stands on its own as a unique group of attributes.

8 Benefits (and Potential Drawbacks) to Agreeableness

At the outset of their journey through the previous literature on agreeableness, the U. Arkansas and U. Minnesota researchers developed a hierarchical model that integrates its possible subdomains. In this model, agreeableness divides into three sub-facets of trust, compassion, and politeness. Compassion, in turn, divides into politeness and “tender-mindedness” (being gentle with others); politeness divides into cooperativeness, straightforwardness, and modesty.

The meta-analyses themselves were based on large quantities of published data, and, in fact, the total number of participants was definitely massive—1.9 million individuals across more than 3,900 studies. The conclusion that 93 percent of all the variables correlated with agreeableness in a positive direction alone should signify the potential advantages of this quality.

Looking next at the hierarchical structure of agreeableness, the authors provide even more convincing evidence of its value, showing specifically which of its components relates to other consequential variables, including better “interpersonal attitudes,” less of a tendency to engage in backstabbing, better performance overall, and lower Dark Triad traits.

Taking all these findings together, the authors then go on to summarize the eight themes that seem best to capture the qualities of agreeable people:

Self-transcendence: Desire to grow as a person, motivation to care for others, and orientation to spiritual and religious practices or “an interconnection with what lies beyond” (p. 264).

Contentment: Acceptance of your life as it is and the ability to adjust to whatever life might throw at you.

Relational investment: Being motivated to cultivate and maintain good relationships with others.

Teamworking: “Empathic capacity to coordinate goals with others” (p. 264), regardless of your role, to accomplish group objectives.

Work investment: Being willing to roll up your sleeves and get things done.

Lower results emphasis: A tendency to be lenient to others, and less of a focus on being the one who needs to finish a task.

Social norm orientation: Avoidance of rule-breaking and behaving in ways compliant with social expectations.

Social integration: Becoming better integrated into society and avoiding antisocial behaviors; a tendency to remain longer at one’s job rather than constantly leaving and finding a new one (turnover).

As you can see, this list does seem to describe not only an ideal friend or colleague but also a citizen in general. On the downside, though, the authors point out that highly agreeable people could be unassertive, meaning that others walk all over them. They may also be last in line for promotions or advancement because of their tendency not to insist on standing in the spotlight when a project is finished. Again reflecting their lack of dominance, individuals high in agreeableness may also be outwardly dependent on others.

There are some disadvantages in the real world to being too nice, but these seem to pale, according to the authors, next to its benefits. Indeed, another term for agreeableness, Wilmot and Ones suggest, is “love.” Quoting the Apostle Paul, moreover, “Love never fails” (p. 269). In other words, although a person may be “too” nice, in the end, their lives will benefit more than the lives of the nastier and more selfish in the population.

It would appear that it is possible to be overly nice if it lets you in for such results as lower salary or taking on too much work. The Wilmot and Ones study suggests, though, that the lifespan benefits of agreeableness may indeed be worth that price in gaining overall fulfillment.

Source News: Posted November 8, 2022 / Reviewed by Michelle Quirk / Psychology Today @

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