* 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.
Dye Your Hair to Live Longer
"The Influence of Age-Related Cues on Health and Longevity"
Hsu, L.M.; Chung, J.; Langer, E.J. Perspectives on Psychological Science, Vol. 5 (6), November 2010, 632-648.
Feeling old? The reason may have more to do with your environment and your perceptions than your genes. This study, by researchers at Harvard and MIT, suggests that environmental cues play a significant role in determining how old—and how healthy—we feel. The researchers explored five different settings or circumstances that might make people feel old; in each case, they found that people who get cues suggesting they’re younger actually lead longer, healthier lives.
For example, they found that after women have their hair dyed, they show a decrease in blood pressure and look younger to observers who see photos of the women in which their hair is cropped out. Also, clothing—a signal of age—matters: People who wear uniforms at work have better health than people who earn the same amount and don’t wear work uniforms. In essence, the perception of oneself as “younger” may actually translate into physical health benefits. —Bernie Wong
How Governments Can Make Us Happy
"Good Governance and Happiness in Nations: Technical Quality Precedes Democracy and Quality Beats Size"
Ott, J.C. Journal of Happiness Studies. Vol. 11 (3), June, 2010, 353-368.
This study examined data from 127 nations to see how the average happiness of their citizens related to the quality of their governments. The author draws on the World Bank’s definition of “Good Governance,” which includes six qualities: governmental accountability, political stability and absence of violence, effectiveness of government, regulatory quality, rule of law, and control of corruption. The results show that the quality of governance is universally correlated with improved levels of happiness among citizens; this correlation appeared not only in Western nations but in Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Asia, and Africa. Democratic governance was positively linked with happiness only in wealthy nations. The author concludes that good governance is more important to happiness than any particular political ideology. —Na’amah Razon
Reduce Prejudice? Yes, You Can
"Yes We Can!: Prejudice Reduction Through Seeing (Inequality) and Believing (in social change)"
Stewart, T., Latu, M., Branscombe, N., Denney, T. Psychological Science. Vol. 21 (11), November 2010, 1557-1562.
This study suggests that a belief in one’s ability to effect change is vital to getting them to take action against prejudice. In the study, white university students had to write an anonymous letter to the university administration expressing the need for more racial diversity on the faculty; before writing, they were told that their letter either would or would not be likely to have an impact. When they were done, they were asked to take flyers advocating racial inequality in faculty representation.
The participants who’d been made to feel like they could make a difference took more flyers, suggesting they were more motivated to take action against racism. They also reported more positive attitudes toward African Americans on a questionnaire. The authors found that being made to feel like they could effect change also increased participants’ feelings of guilt, and it was this guilt that motivated them to take action. These results suggest that fighting racism requires more than making people aware of racism and its effects; it also requires encouraging them to feel like they have the power to combat racism. —Neha John-Henderson