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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.


How to Compliment Your Spouse

"When You Accept Me For Me: The Relational Benefits of Intrinsic Affirmations From One’s Relationship"

Gordon, A.M.; Chen, S. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 36 (11), November 2010, 1439-1453.

Receiving a compliment is usually a good thing. However, not all affirmations are created equal. This study compared how one’s satisfaction with a romantic relationship is affected by “intrinsic” affirmations—which compliment inner, stable characteristics, such as one’s supportive nature—versus “extrinsic” affirmations, which compliment more external, temporary characteristics, such as one’s physical appearance. The authors surveyed more than 150 people—some with low relationship satisfaction, some with high satisfaction—and had them recall intrinsic or extrinsic affirmations from their romantic partner. After recalling an intrinsic affirmation, people who initially reported low satisfaction improved their opinion of their relationship and were more willing to take steps to help their relationship, such as by negotiating with their partner; recalling extrinsic affirmations didn’t have the same effect. The results suggest it’s not just whether but how you compliment your partner that matters for your relationship. —Janelle Caponigro

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When Do Siblings Make Up?

"When do Siblings Compromise? Associations with Children’s Description of Conflict Issues, Culpability, and Emotions"

Recchia, H.; Howe, N. Social Development, Vol. 19 (4), November 2010, 838-857.

Anyone who’s ever had kids—or a brother or sister—knows that sibling conflicts can seem endless. But this study offers some insight into when siblings are more likely to make up. It examined conflicts between children 6 to 8 years old and their sibling. Each sibling narrated a recurring conflict, including details about what happened, whose fault it was, and any emotions they felt or thought their sibling felt. Contrary to what you might expect, siblings were more likely to resolve conflicts involving physical harm than conflicts involving psychological harm or a perceived injustice. What’s more, siblings’ emotional response to a conflict influenced their willingness to resolve the conflict: Children who reported experiencing more anger than their sibling were less likely to initiate a compromise, whereas siblings who reported feeling sadness during their argument were more likely to resolve it. —Janelle Caponigro

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