* This new Greater Good section, Research Digests, offers short summaries of recent studies on happiness, compassion, altruism, and more. Quick to read, easy to digest—we read the research so you don’t have to!
How to Support Your Partner
"The Paradox of Received Social Support: The Importance of Responsiveness. "
Psychological Science, 20(8), August 2009, 928-932.
In this study, participants who told their romantic partner about a negative event that happened that day and received “responsive” support—meaning that they felt their partner understood them, valued their abilities and opinions, and made them feel cared for—felt less sadness and anxiety and reported more relationship satisfaction than participants who didn’t receive this type of support. Prior research had found that getting “invisible” support—meaning the partner is supportive but you don’t notice—is better than visible support, but this study found that what really matters is how responsive the support is, not how visible it is. So when helping your partner through a tough spot, try to make them feel understood, valued, and cared for. —Laura Saslow
Why We Lie
"Dishonesty in the Name of Equity"
Psychological Science. Vol 20(9), July 2009,1153-1160. .
Researchers conducted experiments to determine the conditions under which people lie to financially help or hurt others. The results showed that financial self-interest cannot fully explain people’s dishonest actions. Rather, people act based on the emotional reactions they have to disparities in wealth. When people are jealous of those who have more, they lie to hurt them financially; when they feel guilty for having more, they lie to try to help those who have less. —Kat Saxton
Communication Helps Bridge Achievement Gaps
"Family–School Connections and the Transitions of Low-Income Youths and English Language Learners from Middle School to High School"
Developmental Psychology. Vol 45(4), Jul 2009, 1061-1076
During a student’s transition from middle school to high school, does communication between their parents and schools really have any effect on their well-being? Researchers found that when parents communicate with both middle and high school staff, and the staff between the two schools communicate with each other, middle school students start high school enrolled in higher level math courses. They also found that when these communication levels are high, achievement gaps shrink between native and non-native English speakers and between low- and higher-income students. The results suggest that better communication between parents, teachers, and schools may help overcome disparities in income and language among students. —Erica Lee
How to Promote Healthy Choices
"The Biobehavioral Model of Persuasion: Generating Challenge Appraisals to Promote Health"
Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 39(80), 1928-1952.
How can we encourage people to make changes in their lives that promote better health? The authors of this study tested the effects of different kinds of health messages on undergraduate students. They found that challenging messages, which urge a particular course of action, persuaded people to undertake positive change most effectively, whereas threatening messages, which promote fear, led the participants to avoid changes to their beliefs or behavior. —Aaron Shaw
Different Positive Emotions Inspire Different Behavior
"Witnessing Excellence in Action: The ‘Other-Praising’ Emotions of Elevation, Gratitude, and Admiration. "
The Journal of Positive Psychology, Volume 4 (2), March 2009, Pages 105–127.
This study found that different positive emotions motivate us to act in different ways. Elevation—the “warm glow” feeling we get in response to witnessing acts of moral excellence that do not benefit oneself—leads us to want to emulate that moral person and help others. On the other hand, admiring someone—the response to seeing someone who is highly skilled, talented, or accomplished—makes us want to emulate that person and thus improve ourselves. And after feeling gratitude—a positive feeling we get after witnessing thoughtfulness, generosity, or moral excellence that does benefit ourselves—we want to repay our benefactors and become closer to them. —Laura Saslow