* 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.
How Do You Really Feel about Your Partner?
"Assessing the Seeds of Relationship Decay"
Reis, H. T.; Lee, S.; Rogge, R.D. Psychological Science, Vol. 21 (6), June 2010, 857-864.
How do we know when a relationship has gone bad? This can be tough to recognize because romantic love often blinds us to reality. Indeed, this study shows that subconscious feelings reveal relationship dissatisfaction more reliably than people’s own reports about how they feel toward their partner. In word association tasks, participants quickly had to signal when they saw their partner’s name paired with “good” words, such as “accepting,” and then with “bad” words like “attacking.” The participants who more quickly and accurately associated their partner’s name with good words were less likely to split up within the year. In fact, their performance on this task was a better predictor of whether they’d break up than was the rating they had explicitly given of their relationship satisfaction. The authors suggest that by using word association tasks like the one in this study, therapists might help clients discover their true feelings about their partner, thereby helping them decide whether to mend a relationship or break it off. —Kimberly van der Elst
Why Some Babies Are Calmer than Others
"Fear and Anger Reactivity Trajectories From 4 to 16 Months: The Roles of Temperament, Regulation, and Maternal Sensitivity"
Braungart-Rieker, J., Hill-Soderlund, A., Karrass, J. Developmental Psychology, Vol. 46 (4), July 2010, 791-804.
Infants express fear and anger from the time they’re just a few months old, but this study suggests how those types of distress can be moderated. Researchers analyzed 143 mothers and their infants when those babies were four, eight, 12, and 16 months. Mothers rated their infants’ temperament, which showed that expressions of fear and anger increased with age, although the rate of increase for fear slowed as the infants got older. But not all infants expressed the same amount of fear and anger: Infants who showed a greater ability to focus their attention on an object showed lower levels of fear and anger over time. Also, infants whose mothers accurately recognized their babies’ emotions and responded appropriately, (e.g., ceasing to play when their baby got over-stimulated, and resuming play only when the infant re-initiated it), showed slower increases in fear. —Anahid Modrek