* Greater Good Research Digests offer short summaries of recent studies on happiness, empathy, compassion, and more. Quick to read, easy to digest—we review the research so you don’t have to! Subscribe to our Research Digest feed to receive future digests in your Inbox.
The Angry Brain
"Self Control and Aggression"
Denson, T. F., Dewall, C., Finkle, E. Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 21 (1), February 2012, 20-25.
This study explored how the frontal lobes of our brain help us control aggression. Researchers observed activity in the frontal lobes of people who were provoked to anger by being insulted. They found that areas involved in negative emotions and arousal activated, but so did areas involved in the regulation of our emotions and cognitive control, suggesting the important interplay between the urge to get angry and the need to control our emotions. Researchers found that deficits or abnormalities in these frontal lobe structures predict violent-aggressive behavior. According to the researchers, modern life demands effective self-control, and understanding the neural, psychological, and social mechanisms of aggression can help people control their violent impulses. —Brylyn Stacy
The Selfless Chimp
"Spontaneous Pro-Social Choice by Chimpanzees"
Horner, V.J., Cartera, D., Suchack, M., de Waal, F.B.M., PNAS, Vol. 108 (33), August 2011, 13847–13851.
We humans like to think that our humanity is defined by our kindness to others. But this study suggests we’re not the only animal with a propensity for altruism. Researchers developed a “pro-social choice” test in a lab, where they had female chimpanzees choose between two differently colored tokens. The “selfish” token only rewarded the chimp herself with a treat; the “pro-social” token rewarded both that chimp and a non-related female chimpanzee observing the test. The results show that the female chimpanzees preferred to help the observer, choosing the pro-social token more often than the selfish token, regardless of whether the other chimpanzee expressed interest in the reward. However, if the partner placed too much pressure on the chimp to help, they were less likely to be rewarded. —Samuel Sakhai