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* 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.


How to Quit Smoking

"I Suppress, Therefore I Smoke: Effects of Thought Suppression on Smoking Behavior"

Erskine, James A.K.; Georgiou, George J.; Kvavilashvili, Lia. Psychological Science, Vol 21 (9), September 2010, 1225-1230.

Try not to think about a white elephant—now that’s all you can think about, right? Research has shown that trying to block something from our thoughts only increases the likelihood that we’ll think about it in the future. This study took that concept one step further and found that people who try to repress thoughts of smoking are not only more likely to think about smoking; they’re also more likely to actually smoke a cigarette, and they experience more stress than people who talk openly about their urge to smoke. So if you’re trying to kick a habit, avoid avoiding the problem. Instead, welcome your thoughts or discuss your problem with others. —Janelle Caponigro

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Even Moderate Exercise Helps Your Brain

"Plasticity of Brain Networks in a Randomized Intervention Trial of Exercise Training in Older Adults"

Voss, Michelle W, et. al. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, Vol 2 (32), August 2010, 1-17.

This study suggests that even moderate levels of exercise can improve your cognitive abilities and brain functioning. It involved 65 adults, ages 59 to 80, who before the study participated in only minimal physical activity. Over the course of a year, they joined either a walking group or a stretching and toning group that met three times a week for 40 minutes. The researchers found that among members of the walking group—but not the toning group—there were significant increases in the health of brain areas associated with Alzheimer’s and other mental and cognitive deficiencies. The takeaway? Exercise doesn’t need to be overly intensive to improve your health. “Even moderate aerobic exercise,” write the authors, “improves the coordination of important brain networks.” —Bernie Wong

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How to Start Addressing Achievement Gaps

"Economically Disadvantaged Children's Transitions Into Elementary School: Linking Family Processes, School Contexts, and Educational Policy"

Crosnoe, Robert; Cooper, Carey E.; American Educational Research Journal. Vol. 47 (2), June 2010, 258–291.

Past studies have shown that economically disadvantaged children enter school with less developed cognitive skills, receive lower test scores, take lower level course work, and ultimately obtain fewer high school and college degrees. In this study, the authors trace such disparities to the limitations of growing up in a low-income household, particularly children’s lack of access to educational resources and having parents who suffer more stress. The authors explored whether the education system can help address these disparities, looking at various teacher qualifications and classroom practices. They found that having teachers with greater experience at their grade level can help offset the effects of economic disadvantage and boost the reading scores of these at-risk kids.

Ultimately, they conclude that to give at-risk children proper opportunities, policy makers should focus on long-term, child-centered approaches, such as increasing funding for structured activities outside of school, building tighter connections between families and schools, and helping economically disadvantaged parents identify methods to promote academic success in their children. They argue that short-term, adult-centered approaches (e.g., public assistance, tax relief, etc.) can only go so far. —Anahid Modrek

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