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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.


High Attendance Causes High Achievement

"Evaluating the Relationship Between Student Attendance and Achievement in Urban Elementary and Middle Schools: An Instrumental Variables Approach"

Gottfried, Michael. American Educational Research Journal, Vol 47 (2), June 2010, 434-465.

Past research—and conventional wisdom—has suggested a link between school attendance and academic achievement. But does good attendance cause kids to do well in school, or are high-achievers just more likely to have high attendance? This study analyzed data from all elementary and middle schools in the Philadelphia School District, covering more than 200 schools and roughly 86,000 students. It found that students with better attendance have higher GPAs and standardized test scores, and this is true even from the early years in a child’s education. What’s more, it uncovered evidence suggesting that high attendance actually causes kids to do well in school, at both the elementary and middle school levels, rather than high achievement simply predicting good attendance. —Jason Marsh

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The Limits of the “Love Hormone”

"Oxytocin Makes People Trusting, Not Gullible"

Mikolajczak, Moira, et. al. Psychological Science, Vol 21 (8), Aug 2010, 1072-1074.

Oxytocin, aka “the love hormone,” has become a topic of scientific fascination for its ability to induce trusting and generous behavior, even when delivered through a simple nasal spray. But some have wondered whether unscrupulous politicians, used car salesmen, or others could exploit oxytocin’s powers. This study should assuage some of those fears. 60 men got a spray of oxytocin, then played an online game in which they could transfer money to a trustworthy partner, an untrustworthy partner, or a computer partner. After the oxytocin took effect, they became more generous toward their trustworthy partner and even toward the computer, but not toward the partner who seemed untrustworthy. These results suggest that oxytocin “fosters trust, but not gullibility,” write the authors: Its effects depend on the situation in which a person is interacting with others. —Jason Marsh

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Reducing Stereotyping

"Consider the Situation: Reducing Automatic Stereotyping through Situational Attribution Training"

Tracie L. Stewart. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Vol 48(1), Jan 2010., 221-225.

Research suggests that when we observe some type of negative behavior performed by someone of a different racial, ethnic, or other group, we tend to attribute that behavior to an inner quality of that person rather than the details of the situation. In this study, researchers trained 72 white undergraduates to “consider the situation” when judging behaviors performed by black men (e.g., engaging in violence) that seemed to reinforce certain negative stereotypes. After the training, they found that participants who’d received the training showed significantly less automatic racial stereotyping than a control group that had not completed the training—even when it came to stereotypes that weren’t directly invoked by the training. The results suggest that, with proper training, negative automatic stereotyping can be greatly reduced. —Bernie Wong

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