Do you have a friend who likes to tell you painful home truths?
It turns out that people like this aren’t always being mean or unkind.
Believe it or not, they usually just want the best for you!
We all know that, sometimes, being too nice simply won’t work.
For example, you’ll know this is true if you’ve ever pointed out that your friend probably won’t succeed at their job interview unless they actually bother to buy a smart outfit rather than their usual jeans and t-shirts.
Although your friend might not appreciate your brutal honesty, you have their best interests at heart.
Whether they take your advice is another matter, but humans have a natural desire to help others, even if they risk hurting their feelings in the process.
Researchers at the University of Plymouth carried out a clever experiment to understand how and why people try to change the emotions of those around them, and why they sometimes choose to make others feel worse rather than better.
The researchers recruited 140 participants, and told them that they would be taking part in an experiment centered around a computer game.
The researchers told the participants that they would be playing against someone else later on in the experiment, but this was just a trick – this other person didn’t actually exist.
Half the participants were encouraged to remain emotionally detached from the non-existent other player, while the others were asked to imagine them as a relatable person with feelings.
This non-existent player was referred to as “Player A.”
To make Player A seem more “real,” the participants were asked to read a note supposedly written by this person.
The note contained some information about Player A’s life, including the fact that they had recently broken up with their partner.
The purpose of this note was to encourage the participants to place themselves in Player A’s shoes and to feel empathy towards them.
The participants then started to play a game.
Half played a shooter game, Soldier Of Fortune, which encourages players to confront and kill enemies.
The rest of the players played a game called Escape Dead Island, in which they had to avoid zombies.
In summary, half the players played a confrontation-based game, and half played an avoidance-based game.
Next, the participants were asked to listen to some music clips and read some game descriptions.
These clips and descriptions varied in mood.
Some were designed to produce feelings of anger, and some were included because they triggered sensations of fear and dread.
The researchers asked the participants to choose the music clip and games description that they wanted Player A to see and hear before playing the game they had just played themselves.
In other words, they were asked to choose the music clip and description that best fit the game in question.
They also filled in a questionnaire that asked them how angry, fearful, or neutral they wanted Player A to feel.
The most important finding was that the players who had been encouraged to empathize with Player A were much more likely to choose music clips and game descriptions that they thought would help Player A win the game.
The participants who had played the confrontational game chose music they thought would make Player A angry, whereas those who had played the avoidance game chose music they thought would make Player A fearful.
In other words, they were willing to choose music and descriptions that would make Player A feel “bad” in some way because they thought that it would help them win.
So if they believed that Player A was going to play Soldier Of Fortune, the participants would typically choose music and descriptions that would inspire anger, because they believed that this would get Player A in the right frame of mind to succeed.
In the researchers’ own words, the results suggested that “empathy led people to choose particular negative emotional experiences that they believed would ultimately help their partner be successful in the context of the game.”
So, what does this research mean?
Basically, there’s a good chance that when someone is trying to scare you, they are doing it for a reason!
Just as players in the experiment chose angry music when they wanted someone to win Soldier Of Fortune, your friend might, for example, try to scare you into studying harder for an exam because they think your fear will motivate you to put in the effort required to get a high grade.
Of course, some abusive people will claim that they just want what’s best for you as justification for their actions.
You need think about these situations on a case-by-case basis.
If you don’t know someone well, or suspect that they have ulterior motives, it’s best to politely thank them for their advice and make your own choices.
However, if you know that they usually show genuine respect and care towards you, it might be time to accept that their perspective on a situation might be exactly what you need!
So, the next time a close friend tries to shock you into action, thank them for caring instead of assuming that they are trying to hurt you.
Tough love might be hard to swallow, but try not to let your pride stand in the way of some good advice.