The science behind giving and receiving compliments

Sophomores Liam Sullivan and Lucas Granja (Zadie Martin)

Ali Browne: Picture this: you wake up on a Monday morning to discover your alarm never went off. You rush out of bed, throw on a random outfit and race out the door to make it to advisory by 8 o’clock. With a full day of classes ahead of you, you rush down the hallway, trying to hide that you woke up mere minutes ago, and walk through the door just in time. As you collapse into a chair, a classmate taps you on the shoulder to tell you that they love your sweatshirt. It’s a simple comment, but you feel just a little better than before. This is the power of a compliment. Whether giving or receiving a compliment on an outfit choice, character trait, or performance in a sports game, we all know how these little encounters can make us feel uplifted. But, many of us don’t know why. I’m Ali Browne and today, Zadie Martin and I will be unpacking these moments by getting into the science of compliments and talking to community members about their experiences.

So, why is receiving a compliment such a mood booster? The answer lies with dopamine. Dopamine is an important neurotransmitter in the brain that is produced in the hypothalamus. Often called the “feel-good” hormone, dopamine is closely linked to positivity, happiness, motivation, and the brain’s reward system. When you receive a compliment, it triggers your brain to produce more dopamine. While this effect is often temporary, the surge of positive feelings can have a significant impact on the progression of your day. Studies have even shown that receiving a compliment activates the same part of your brain that lights up when you receive a monetary reward, the ventral striatum and the ventral medial prefrontal cortex.

Similarly, engaging in a random act of kindness, like giving a compliment, can have a mood-boosting effect. Being kind also boosts serotonin and dopamine, which give you feelings of satisfaction and also cause the pleasure or reward centers in your brain to light up. Even if you don’t realize it, giving a compliment can be just as beneficial as receiving one. So next time you notice someone wearing something you like or displaying a trait you admire, make an effort to give them a genuine compliment and see how it can impact you both for the better.

Now, we’ll hear from Zadie Martin, who interviewed people in the SPA community about their own experiences giving and receiving compliments.

Zadie Martin: Hi all, this is Zadie Martin, a member of the Rubicon online staff with an interview with two friends about compliments.

Lucas Granja: Lucas 10th grade, he/ him.

Liam Sullivan: Liam 10th grade, he/ him.

Martin: Do y’all complement each other often?

Granja: I’d say a fair bit.

Sullivan: Yeah.

Martin: And what about in general? Do you compliment other people often or is it just a friend thing?

Granja: I’d say more friends than like [other] people.

Sullivan: I would agree, I would only compliment others if they did something. Or there was something cool about them.

Martin: And how does it make you feel when someone compliments you?

Granja: I like it. I mean, getting complicated- complimented, it’s always nice.

Sullivan: It’s not bad. Yeah.

Martin: And what’s the best compliment you’ve received?

Granja: Um, that’s hard. Uh, I don’t know. Just like complimenting my clothes. I think that’s nice.

Sullivan: I have no clue.

Martin: Do you think that compliments about your physical appearance or like, your talent are better? Like which ones, which type of compliments do you like better?

Sullivan: You said physical appearance or talent?

Martin: Yeah, physical appearance or talent.

Sullivan: I’d say probably talent because like, physical appearance, you can like, I mean, you can only change some aspects of it, but like with talent, you can always, you know, work and get better.

Martin: Um, think of something non-physical to compliment each other on and say it.

Granja: Um, you’re very funny.

Sullivan: You have cool clothes. Wait that’s- [laughs]

Martin: Something not physical.

Sullivan: Um, good soccer player. Is that physical or talent?

Martin: No, that’s talent.

Sullivan: So, alright, you’re a good soccer player.

Granja: Thank you.

Martin: Alright, and who is someone in your life that you think you should compliment more often?

Granja: Um, probably my family.

Sullivan: Yeah, I would say the same.

Browne: Once again, this has been Ali Browne and Zadie Martin. Thanks for listening to the podcast and remember to go out there and give someone a genuine compliment today, you never know just how much it could impact them.

Music Credits:
“Wholesome” Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License