Does kindness actually have an effect on your health? A new study featured on TIME shows that it's quite possible, as researchers found that people who show compassion for others activate their vagus nerve, the longest cranial nerve in the body that gives you the ability to speak, swallow, and breathe. It also plays a role in forming relationships, as it releases a special hormone called oxytocin.

A group of researchers led by Barbara Fredrickson from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, worked with 65 volunteers to explore the vagus nerve by means of studying meditation and stress. Half of the participants went through "lovingkindness" meditation sessions focusing on positive thoughts toward themselves and others, while the other half was placed on a waiting list.

Before and after the trial, researchers measured the participants' heart-rate variability, or how "toned" or responsive their vagus nerve was. The greater the vagus nerve was toned, the higher the heart-rate variability, and the lower the risk for cardiovascular conditions.

For 61 days, every volunteer was asked to record how often they prayed and meditated on a daily basis, and list down powerful experiences that triggered either positive or negative emotions.

The results showed that those who went through the meditation sessions displayed more positive emotions and behaviors such as joy and kindness as compared with those who were just on the waiting list. They also recorded higher vagal tones, which were previously connected to greater camaraderie with other people and a more positive outlook in life.

(Photo by Jesslee Cuizon via Flickr Creative Commons)

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