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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.


How Well Do We Predict Our Happiness?

"Personality Neglect: The Unforeseen Impact of Personal Dispositions on Emotional Life"

Quoidbach, J.; Dunn, E.W. Psychological Science, November 2010, Vol. 21 (12), 1783-1786.

How capable are we at predicting our own future happiness? Not very, according to this study. One experiment found that students did a poor job of predicting how happy they’d be after receiving a grade higher, lower, or similar to what they expected to receive in a class. When making their prediction, they failed to consider how happy they are in general, and their general happiness level was an important factor in determining their future happiness level: Happy people were happy regardless of what grade they received, while unhappy people were still unhappy.

In a second experiment, conducted before the 2008 presidential election, participants had to predict what their emotional reaction would be if President Obama was elected. Optimists were more likely to underestimate their happiness while neurotic people were more likely to overestimate their happiness. Both experiments show that people tend to ignore their own personal predispositions when predicting future happiness. —Bernie Wong

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Do Kids in Childcare Act Our More?

"Child Care and the Development of Behavior Problems Among Economically Disadvantaged Children in Middle Childhood"

Votruba-Drzal, E., et. al. Child Development, Vol. 81 (5), 1460–1474.

Do children in childcare act out more than other kids? Researchers, politicians, and others have debated this question for years. This study, which looked at 349 children in childcare from low-income families, suggests that the answer depends on the quality of the care they receive. In high-quality childcare, the setting is well-structured and stable; teachers are warm, emotionally supportive, and responsive to kids’ needs, and the kids have access to stimulating materials. The researchers found that children who received high-quality childcare were less likely to show behavior problems when they were in elementary school, between the ages of 7 and 11; these kids were better at regulating their emotions and getting along with peers. Children who’d attended lower quality childcare showed more behavior problems than their peers. —Anahid Modrek

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Why Kids Trust

"Young Children Have a Specific, Highly Robust Bias to Trust Testimony"

Jaswal, V.K., et. al. Psychological Science, Vol. 21 (10), October 2010, 1541-1547.

Children are much more willing to believe what they are told than adults. This study examined whether that’s because kids are more trusting in general or because they’re particularly prone to trust things that people say to them directly. Three-year-olds either heard an experimenter claim that a sticker was in one location when it was actually in another, or saw her place an arrow on the wrong location. All children searched in the wrong location at first, but those who heard the deceptive testimony continued to look in the wrong place, whereas the rest of the kids quickly looked in the right location. In another experiment, children who could see and hear a deceptive speaker were more likely to be misled than those who could only hear her. The results suggest that young children have a strong inclination to trust what people say—especially when those people are visible to them—rather than an inclination to trust all people in general. —Anahid Modrek

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