Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Science


Health and Rehabilitation Sciences


Irwin, Jennifer D.


This research sought to assess the impact of deliberate acts of kindness (DAKs) plus access to a stress management booklet (intervention), compared to the booklet alone (control) on the stress-related outcomes of resilience, social interaction anxiety, affect, and mood of undergraduate and graduate students. Participants’ study-related experiences were explored, as were the types of DAKs. This repeated-measures, randomized controlled trial included 112 students (80 undergraduate and 32 graduate) with 56 in each condition. Four scales were implemented at baseline, immediate post-intervention, and 3-months post-intervention. A linear mixed effects model was utilized with group and time entered as fixed effects. Content analysis of open-ended question responses and DAK logs was conducted. Statistically significant interaction effects in favour of the intervention group were found for all measures, and intervention participants described improvements in mental wellbeing. DAKs were plentiful (1,542 DAKs, 26 types), and show promise for university-based mental health interventions.

Summary for Lay Audience

The mental health of undergraduate and graduate students is concerning, specifically in relation to the rising rates of stress and anxiety in the university student population. University students experience stressors such as academic load, constant pressure to succeed, and competition with peers that can trigger or exacerbate feelings of social anxiety and negatively impact students’ mood, further perpetuating negative affect. Students’ abilities to cope with and respond positively to these stressors can be referred to as resilience, which can act as a buffer in times of adversity. One way to enhance students’ resilience and promote positive mental health, might be performing deliberate acts of kindness (DAKs). DAKs have shown promise in improving individuals’ wellbeing and increasing happiness; however, studies regarding DAKs as a mental health intervention are scarce. To that end, this thesis examined the impact that performing DAKs had on the resilience, social interaction anxiety, affect, and mood of undergraduate and graduate students at a Canadian post-secondary institution. To investigate this, one randomized controlled trial was conducted and consisted of 112 undergraduate and graduate students (80 and 32, respectively), randomized to either the intervention (n = 56) or the control (n = 56) group. Both groups were reminded that they had access to a relaxation and stress management booklet from the institution’s Wellness Education Centre. In addition, the intervention group was asked to partake in and log three deliberate acts of kindness per day, and participate in a study-related website to connect with, support, and share experiences/ideas with each other around DAKs. Participants’ levels of resilience, social interaction anxiety, affect, and mood were compared between groups and over time. The KISS of Kindness Study II demonstrated efficacy for intervention group participants through increased resilience, reduced social anxiety and negative affect, and described improvements in mood. Individuals in both groups expressed enjoyment participating in the study and described an overall improvement in their mental health and wellbeing, positioning DAKs as an effective strategy to improve the mental health of university students.