* This new 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!
Relationships Reduce Substance Abuse
"Romantic Relationships and Substance Use in Early Adulthood: An Examination of the Influences of Relationship Type, Partner Substance Use, and Relationship Quality"
Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Vol 51(2), June 2010, 153– 167.
Is young love the anti-drug? Researchers found that over the first two years after high school, young adults who were in a romantic relationship engaged in less heavy drinking and marijuana use than their single counterparts. This was true regardless of whether those surveyed were married, living together, or just dating, but the effect was stronger for relationships that were more serious and rated as higher quality. The major exception was when one’s romantic partner was a heavy drinker or marijuana user; when that was the case, one’s odds of substance abuse actually increased. —Jason Marsh
Racism Hurts Academic Performance
"Examining the Consequences of Exposure to Racism for the Executive Functioning of Black Students"
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Vol 46(1), January 2010, 127-132.
This study offers evidence that experiencing racism harms minority students’ academic performance. Students were shown the names of colors, but the names were printed in ink of a color different from the color they actually named (e.g., “red” printed in blue ink). The students were tested on how quickly they could identify the different colors—a way to measure their ability to manage their attention. Black students performed worse on this test after interacting with a white student than after interacting with another black student. However, black participants for whom race was an important part of their identity were more strongly affected (i.e., they took longer to complete the test) following racist interactions than were other black students. This study helps to zero in on the cognitive affects of racism, which may influence how well minority students do in school. —Kat Saxton
Two Kinds of Empathy
"Neural Activity during Social Signal Perception Correlates with Self-Reported Empathy. "
Brain Research, Vol. 1308, January 2010, 100-113.
When we experience empathy, we might be thinking about how someone else is feeling, or experiencing what they are feeling ourselves. Is this a superficial distinction, or is it really reflected at the neural level? Researchers explored whether these two kinds of empathy involve different areas of the brain. They found that “cognitive empathy,” which is being able to understand what someone else is feeling, involves processing in areas of the brain associated with taking other people’s perspectives. “Affective empathy,” which is actually feeling what someone else is feeling, shows activation in a different area of the brain. In other words, there really are two kinds of empathy: understanding what someone is feeling and actually feeling their emotions. —Laura Saslow