* This new Greater Good section, Research Digests, offers short summaries of recent studies on happiness, compassion, altruism, and more. Quick to read, easy to digest—we read the research so you don’t have to!
Positive Illusions and Relationship Quality
"Positive illusions about a partner’s physical attractiveness and relationship quality."
Personal Relationships. 16(2), June 2009, 263-283.
“Positive illusions” are when people see their partners as more physically attractive than their partners see themselves. In a series of studies, the authors examined how holding positive illusions about a partner’s physical attractiveness is associated with the quality of one’s relationship. After surveying 117 heterosexual couples in the Netherlands, the authors found that spouses did indeed hold positive illusions about their partner’s bodily and facial attractiveness. What’s more, couples in which one partner has “positive illusions” about the other generally rate their relationship better than do partners who don’t see one another in this way; this was especially true among older couples. —Aaron Shaw
Can Having Richer Friends Make You Sick?
"Social comparisons and health: Can having richer friends and neighbors make you sick?"
Social Science and Medicine. Vol 69(3), August 2009, 335-344.
Researchers examined whether people’s health is impacted by how they see their own income in relation to friends’ and family members’ income. They found that these kinds of social comparisons were related to health, but only at the extremes of social status. Having a lower income was associated with an increased rate of heart disease; having a higher income was linked to a lower risk of high blood pressure. The researchers found evidence that these health disparities were due to the stress brought on by comparing one’s social status to others’. —Kat Saxton
Positive Effects of Humor
"Finding Comfort in a Joke: Consolatory Effects of Humor Through Cognitive Distraction"
Emotion. Vol 9(4), Aug 2009, 574-578.
Some evidence for the healing power of laughter: After viewing disturbing images, participants saw or read something humorous (e.g., a cartoon) or something that was simply meant to make them feel good, like a photo of a father holding his newborn child. Their negative feelings diminished more after the humorous stimulus than they did after the positive stimulus. The researchers argue that this is because humorous objects demand more of our attention, distracting us from immediate distress. –Jason Marsh
Parenting and Adolescent Behaviors
"Enduring consequences of parenting for risk behaviors from adolescence into early adulthood"
Social Science & Medicine. Vol 66(9), May 2008, 2023-2034.
The way parents treat their kids in early adolescence may influence whether those kids engage in riskier behaviors in early adulthood. For females, having a closer family reduced their risk of dropping out of school, delayed when they started having sex, and reduced their number of sexual partners. Among males, having parents who exerted more control over their kids’ decisions led to less excessive drinking, and having a close family or parents who were more controlling both led to fewer sexual partners. —Kat Saxton
Experiencing Multiculturalism and Happiness
"Multiculturalism and subjective happiness as mediated by cultural and relational variables"
Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology. Vol 15(3), July 2009, 303-313.
Researchers found that for African-American and Asian youth of both genders, attending a school with a multicultural student body was linked to higher happiness, but only among students who showed high levels of “ethnocultural empathy,” meaning that they felt comfortable being around other races and ethnicities, speaking out against discrimination, and sharing pride in other groups’ achievements. For Hispanic youth, going to a school with a diverse student body was associated with higher empathy for other ethnic groups, but not with greater happiness. So, multiculturalism in schools may be effective at promoting happiness in youth by drawing out their empathy and compassion for other ethnic groups, at least among students from certain ethnic backgrounds. —Erica Lee