* 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! Subscribe to the Research Digests RSS feed to receive future digests.
Do Our Brains Crave Equality?
"Neural Evidence for Inequality-Averse Social Preferences"
Nature, Vol 463(25), February 2010, 1089-1091.
It seems our brains are offended by inequality. Neuroscience researchers gave money either to a study participant or to someone else, observing the participant’s brain response. Brain activity in the areas associated with rewards increased more when participants believed money transfers were promoting equality than when they believed transfers were promoting inequality. Brain imaging results showed that the brain’s reward system is sensitive to small levels of both positive and negative inequality. The findings suggest that our distaste for inequality is wired in our brains. —Kat Saxton
Meditation Improves Concentration
"Intensive Meditation Training Improves Perceptual Discrimination and Sustained Attention"
Psychological Science, Vol. 21(6), June 2010, 829-839.
At a time when technology constantly tempts us with distractions, this study offers some of the most compelling evidence to date that meditation can improve our skills of attention. Participants engaged in a rigorous meditation practice (five hours/day for three months) that had them focus their attention on a single object, such as their breathing. This training produced significant improvements in their performance on a task that required great attention and concentration. —Jason Marsh
Does Religion Serve Public Health?
"Adult Smokers' Perception of the Role of Religion and Religious Leadership on Smoking and Association with Quitting: A Comparison between Thai Buddhists and Malaysian Muslims"
Social Science and Medicine, Vol. 69, September 2009, 1025-1031.
Religion helps give some people’s lives meaning, direction, and purpose. But can it help them stop smoking? The researchers investigated the influence of religion and religious leaders on smoking habits among Malaysian Muslims and Thai Buddhists. Although the majority of both groups felt that religion guided their day-to-day behavior and that their religion discouraged smoking, religious factors were not always enough to get them to quit. Religious factors led Muslims in Malaysia to quit smoking but the same wasn’t true for Buddhists in Thailand. Still, overall the study suggests religion and religious leaders may be a culturally relevant piece of larger tobacco control efforts. —Kat Saxton