* 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.
Bad Mood, Good Deeds
"Doing Good, Feeling Good: Examining the Role of Organizational Citizenship Behaviors in Changing Mood"
Glomb, T.M., Bhave, D.P., Miner, A.G., & Wall, M. Personnel Psychology, February 2011, Vol. 64 (1), 191-223.
This study suggests that being in a bad mood might make you more altruistic—and being altruistic might make your mood improve. Every morning for three weeks, 68 employees at a technology company completed short surveys to measure their mood. Throughout the workday, they recorded whether they performed acts of altruism, courtesy, or other forms of kindness, then reported their mood again. The results show that employees who rated their moods negatively earlier in the day were more likely to perform altruistic acts later in the day—which, in turn was associated with a more positive mood. The researchers suggest that negative emotions may actually encourage social activity—in the form of altruism—in order to improve mood and divert attention away from negative thoughts. —Bernie Wong
"Etiquette and Effort: Holding Doors for Others"
Santamaria, J. P. & Rosenbaum, D. A. Psychological Science, forthcoming 2011.
Why do we sometimes go out of our way to help another person? To answer this question, researchers in this study broached new scientific territory: the science of door entry etiquette. Yes, they actually observed 148 people in the act of holding a door open for another person. They identified two key factors behind door etiquette. First, the farther away the second person was, the less likely the first person was to hold the door open. And second, they found that people would perform this altruistic act if the total effort of both individuals was less than if they each individually opened the door themselves: When the first person held the door a bit longer and the second person walked at a faster pace, they reduced the time and effort needed to have the door open. The message that the researchers want to convey is that the everyday acts of kindness we frequently perform are driven by largely unconscious processes and calculations. —Bernie Wong