* 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.
When the “Cuddle Hormone” Isn’t So Cuddly
"Oxytocin Promotes Human Ethnocentrism"
De Dreu, C.K.W, et. al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, January 2011, Advance online publication.
Oxytocin is known as the “cuddle hormone,” but this study links it to behaviors that aren’t so cuddly: prejudice and ethnocentrism. The researchers found that when Dutch students were given oxytocin, they were more likely to favor Dutch people or things associated with the Dutch than when they had taken a placebo. After a dose of oxytocin, they were also more likely to say they would sacrifice the life of a non-Dutch person over a Dutch person in order to save five other people of unknown nationality. To explain their results, the researchers speculate that oxytocin is an evolutionary tool that promotes cooperation and coordination within groups; the problem may be that this biological favoritism may inspire unfair treatment of members of other groups. —Whitney Patterson
Tags: cooperation, evolution, oxytocin, prejudice
Does Religion Make Us Happier and Healthier?
"Religion, Health, and Psychological Well-Being"
Green, M.; Elliott, M. Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 49 (2), June 2010,149-163.
Prior research has shown that individuals who report being religious, regardless of denomination, also report higher levels of happiness and well-being. This study adds to that research, finding that even after controlling for work and family status, individuals who say they’re religious report improved health and happiness. The findings contribute to a growing body of literature that supports a link between religious beliefs and psychological and physical well-being. Interestingly, the study also found that people with fundamentalist views were happier but less healthy than those with liberal religious views. —Na’amah Razon
Tags: happiness, health, mind-body health, psychology, religion
Can Age Help You Stick to Your Diet?
"Staying on and Getting Back on the Wagon: Age-Related Improvement in Self-Regulation During a Low-Calorie Diet."
Hennecke, M.; Freund, A. M. Psychology and Aging, Vol. 25 (4), Dec. 2010, 876-885.
Age may bring wisdom, but it may also help you stick to a low-calorie diet. Comparing women across the lifespan, the authors of this study found that older women were better able to regulate their behavior and reported more success at bouncing back when faced with failures and setbacks. The bad news? Self-regulation did not actually translate into increased weight loss. —Na’amah Razon