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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.


Managers with Empathy Might Improve Employee Health

"A Daily Investigation of the Role of Manager Empathy on Employee Well-Being"

Scotta, B.A., et. al. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, November 2010, Vol. 113 (2), 127-140.

Feeling sick at work? Maybe you need a more empathic manager. This study followed 60 employees at an IT company over two weeks, finding that employees were less likely to report feeling sick if they had a manager with a strong inclination to take an employee’s perspective and feel what they were feeling, whether it was positive or negative emotion. These employees also felt happier after making progress toward their goals at work than other employees who made similar strides but didn’t have an empathic manager. The authors suggest that managers who demonstrate empathy foster a climate of support and understanding at work, which boosts employee well-being—and, in turn, might make these workplaces more productive and cost-effective. —Bernie Wong

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Two Degrees of Separation Can Still Reduce Prejudice against Muslims

"Prejudice against Muslims: Anxiety as a Mediator between Intergroup Contact and Attitudes, Perceived Group Variability and Behavioural Intentions."

Hutchison, P. and Rosenthal, H. Ethnic and Racial Studies, January 2011, Vol. 34 (1), 40-61.

Surveys suggest that there has been a considerable rise in prejudice against Muslims around the world since September 11. How can relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims be improved? In this study, non-Muslim participants from a London University were asked about the frequency and quality of their contact with Muslims. People who had more frequent high-quality contact with Muslims had more positive attitudes toward them, were more likely to see the unique qualities of individual Muslims (rather than stereotyping them as a group), had stronger intentions to act positively toward Muslims, and had less anxiety about interacting with Muslims. What’s more, the researchers uncovered the same attitudes among people who knew non-Muslims friendly with Muslims but didn’t have Muslim friends of their own. These findings are promising because they suggest not only that coming into contact with Muslims can reduce anti-Muslim prejudice but that simply knowing non-Muslims with Muslim friends can achieve the same goal. —Neha John-Henderson

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When it Comes to Relationships, Reality Might Be Overrated

"Positive Illusions About a Partner's Personality and Relationship Quality."

Barelds, D. P.H.; Pieternel, D. Journal of Research in Personality, 45 (1), February 2011, 37-43.

When it comes to your relationship, it seems that reality might be overrated. In this study, researchers mailed surveys to 84 couples, asking each participant to answer questions about their personality, their partner’s personality, and their relationship quality. Researchers found that more agreeable and conscientious men and more extroverted women were more likely to see their partner more positively than their partner saw himself or herself. Although participants were generally accurate in measuring their partner’s personality compared to what the partner said about himself or herself, the results show that those who did hold “positive illusions” about their partner tended to be more satisfied with their relationship. —Bernie Wong

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