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* This new 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.


Does Happiness Make Us Selfish?

"When Happiness Makes Us Selfish, But Sadness Makes Us Fair: Affective Influences on Interpersonal Strategies in the Dictator Game. "

Tan, H.B, Forgas, J. P. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 46 (3), May 2010, 571-576.

What makes a person more likely to share with others? In this study, researchers gave participants 10 raffle tickets and asked them to decide how many tickets to keep for themselves and how many to give to someone else. The more tickets they kept for themselves, the more likely they were to win a $20 prize. A series of three experiments consistently showed that being in a happy mood increased selfishness and that sad participants were more fair in their distribution of resources. In addition, if participants were told about prior participants who’d distributing their tickets in an unfair manner, their mood was more likely to influence their behavior—they were less influenced by the social norm of fairness, the researchers conclude. These results contradict the conventional wisdom that positive emotions lead to positive social outcomes. —Neha John-Henderson

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Why You Should Try to See Yourself as Resilient

"Resilience as the Ability to Bounce Back From Stress: A Neglected Personal Resource? "

Smitha, B. W.; Tooleya, E. M.; Christophera, P. J.; Kay, V.S. The Journal of Positive Psychology, Vol. 5 (3), May 2010, 166 - 176.

Psychologists define “resilience” as the ability to bounce back from stress, protecting us from its negative health effects. The results of this study suggest that the mere belief that one is resilient leads to less negative emotion and more positive emotion, less physical symptoms of illness, and less perceived stress. This was true regardless of how optimistic participants were or how much they felt they had a purpose in life. This research may reflect an important phenomenon: that the beliefs a person has about their ability to be resilient may be as related to health outcomes as whether the person actually does bounce back when they find themselves in a stressful situation. —Neha John-Henderson

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How to Recover from Being Wronged

"Compassion-focused Reappraisal, Benefit-focused Reappraisal, and Rumination After an Interpersonal Offense: Emotion-regulation Implications for Subjective Emotion, Linguistic Responses, and Physiology."

Witvliet, C. ,et al. The Journal of Positive Psychology, Vol. 5 (3), May 2010, 226-242.

After someone hurts or offends us, research shows, how we think about that event can make things worse: Persistent negative thinking, known as rumination, can increase negative emotions, raise blood pressure, and worsen depression. But this study offers more positive alternatives. Researchers had participants ruminate about an incident in which another person had hurt or offended them, focusing on how it had adversely affected their life. Then, half the participants were told to try more compassionate thinking, directing positive feelings and kindness towards the offender; the other half were told to focus on benefits that came from the offense, such as how they may have grown stronger as a result of it. Researchers found that those who thought compassionately felt greater empathy and forgiveness toward the offender, while those who focused on benefits felt more gratitude. Both groups felt happier overall, and both groups showed physical signs of positive emotion such as more smiling, slowed heartbeats, and reduced tension beneath the eyes and in the brow. —Bernie Wong

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