* 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.
Why Do Bullies Bully?
"Bullies Have Enhanced Moral Competence to Judge Relative to Victims, but Lack Moral Compassion"
Gini, G., Pozzoli, T., Hauser, M. Personality and Individual Differences, Vol. 50 (5), April 2011, 603–608.
This study helps to answer the question: What can we do to promote compassion and prevent bullying among children? Researchers classified 719 nine to thirteen year olds into three groups, based on surveys of the kids’ peers: bullies (those who hit, push, or tease others), victims (those who get hit, pushed, or teased by others), or defenders (those who attempt to stop bullying or support victims). They found that bullies were just as capable of understanding right from wrong as defenders. However, bullies were the group most likely to underestimate their influence on others—a step that could help them justify their hurtful behavior. Interestingly, the opposite pattern was observed in victims: They were less able to determine right from wrong but were more emotionally aware of how their behavior influences others. Taken together, these findings suggest a two-way approach to reducing the negative consequences of bullying: helping bullies become more aware of the harm they cause and teaching victims to identify unjust behavior when it occurs. —Janelle Caponigro
How the Arts Affect Social Stigmas
"The Impact of a National Mental Health Arts and Film Festival on Stigma and Recovery"
Quinn, N., et. al. Psychiatrica Scandinavica, Vol. 123 (1), January 2011, 71–81.
Researchers from the United Kingdom found that the creative arts have a powerful influence over our attitudes toward people with mental illness. During a national mental health arts festival, 415 people learned about mental illness through films, plays, and discussions of literature. Afterwards, they were asked to fill out a survey. The researchers found that media focused on stigma, recovery, or support of people with mental illness helped to reduce stigma and increase positive attitudes toward mental illness. On the other hand, they found that stigma increased after people watched a documentary that highlighted an individual with mental illness who remained unwell and who spoke about treatment failures. This study highlights how the media can influence how we view individuals with mental illness—both for good and for bad. —Janelle Caponigro
The Roots of Shyness and Anxiety
"Early Temperamental and Family Predictors of Shyness and Anxiety"
Volbrecht, M.M., Goldsmith, H.H. Developmental Psychology, Vol. 46 (5), September 2010, 1192–1205.
This study looked at how a person’s personality and family environment contribute to the development of shyness and anxiety later in life. Researchers collected information on children’s personalities, home environment, and anxiety symptoms from 121 pairs of three-year-old twins. They then collected the same information from the kids at age seven. They found children were more likely to be shy at age seven if at age three they’d been more fearful of new situations, had shown better control over their impulses in order to behave according to rules, and had experienced less family stress. The researchers also found that seven year olds demonstrated more anxiety if they had better control over impulses, experienced more negative emotions within their family, and had families currently experiencing high levels of stress. These findings suggest the influential role of both personality and environment in the development of shyness and anxiety, even in early childhood. —Janelle Caponigro