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* This Greater Good section, Research Digests, offers 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 the Research Digests RSS feed to receive future digests.


Do Bullies have Empathy?

"Bullying and Empathy: A Short-Term Longitudinal Investigation"

Stavrinides, P., Georgiou, S., Theofanous, V., Educational Psychology, Vol. 30 (7), December 2010, 793-802.

Common sense suggests that bullies have low empathy. This study backs up that assumption—sort of. The authors found that among 205 sixth graders in Cyprus, bullies did show lower levels of “affective empathy,” which refers to the ability to experience others’ feelings as though they were your own. However, they didn’t have lower levels of “cognitive empathy,” defined as the ability to understand how another person feels but not necessarily feel that yourself.

The authors speculate that many bullies objectively know very well how their victims feel, but lack the affective empathy that would actually deter them from attacking others. However, they suggest that having high cognitive empathy may be the link to helping children learn to increase their affective empathy, and that their study “shows the necessity” for emotional education in schools as a means to reduce bullying and other aggressive behavior. —Kimberly van der Elst

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Dads Matter, Too

"Perceptions of Childhood Relationships with Mother and Father: Daily Emotional and Stressor Experiences in Adulthood "

Mallers, M.H.; Charles, S.T.; Neupert, S.D.; Almeida, D.M. Developmental Psychology, Vol. 46 (6), November 2010, 1651-1661.

Research has shown that the amount of nurturance, support, and affection a mother gives her child affects that child’s overall mental health as an adult. This study builds on that research by bringing dads into the equation. Adults rated the quality of their relationship with their mother and father during childhood. They also reported their levels of psychological distress (e.g., anxiety, tension, restlessness) over eight consecutive days.

Consistent with previous findings, the authors found that higher quality mother-child relationships were related to lower levels of psychological distress. They also found that men, though not women, who reported having good relationships with their fathers as children were less likely to experience emotional distress in response to everyday stressors; men who had had worse relationships with their dads showed higher levels of distress. These findings suggest that relationships with mothers and fathers make an important impact on children’s emotional and psychological development. —Janelle Caponigro

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Losing Sleep Over Regrets

"The Aftermath of Rash Action: Sleep-Interfering Counterfactual Thoughts and Emotions "

Schmidt, R.E.; Van der Linden, M. Emotion. Vol. 9 (4), August 2009, 549–553.

Researchers at the University of Geneva have concluded that rash behavior and “counterfactual thinking”—which means feeling emotions such as guilt, shame, and regret—contribute to insomnia. The study examined a group of 101 undergraduate students who were asked to complete questionnaires assessing their impulsive behavior, counterfactual thinking, and insomnia. The study found that the frequency of rash, impulsive behavior is associated with guilt, shame, and regret, and with more severe insomnia. —Na’amah Razon

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