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* 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.


Are We More Moral Than We Think?

"Are We More Moral Than We Think? Exploring the Role of Affect in Moral Behavior and Moral Forecasting"

Teper, R., Inzlicht, M., Page-Gould, E. Psychological Science, Vol. 22 (4), April 2011, 553-558.

This study suggests that people behave more ethically than they expect. Researchers presented one group of participants with a math test in which they had the opportunity to cheat; participants in another group were asked to predict whether or not they would cheat under the same circumstances. The results show that participants cheated far less than they predicted they would. Why is that? The researchers suggest it’s because emotions are stronger when experiencing an ethical dilemma than when simply thinking about it—indeed, participants taking the math test felt more emotional intensity than those making predictions—and past research indicates that emotions guide moral decision-making. We underestimate our propensity for moral behavior, the researchers argue, because we underestimate the strength of our emotions. —Carmen Sobczak

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Why Staying Positive Can be Good for Your Health

"Pathways Linking Positive Emotion and Health in Later Life"

Ong, A.D. Current Directions in Psychological Science, December 2010, Vol. 19 (6), 358-362.

A growing body of research indicates that positive emotions can help us stay healthy later in life; this study examines how. The results suggest that staying positive can lead us to practice healthy behaviors, such as a good diet, regular exercise, and getting sufficient sleep. Positive emotions may also reduce our body’s level of cortisol, a hormone linked to stress, reduce our heart rate, reduce our likelihood of suffering from cardiovascular problems such as stroke, and may help alleviate pain. Finally, the study uncovered evidence that positive emotions may not only prevent health problems but reverse the harmful effects of stress. Interestingly, the results show that people can enjoy these benefits of positive emotions even if they experience negative emotions as well. —Na’amah Razon

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What “I Love You” Really Means

"Let's Get Serious: Communicating Commitment in Romantic Relationships"

Ackerman, J. M., Griskevicius, V., & Li, N. P. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 100 (6), June 2011, 1079-1094.

This study found that, contrary to expectations, it is men who typically confess love in a relationship first and feel happier when it is confessed. The authors suggest that the timing of the confession plays a crucial role in how men and women react to the phrase “I love you”: Professing love before a couple has sex may signal a desire to initiate sex as part of the relationship, whereas a post-sex confession may instead signal an interest in long-term commitment. Women, therefore, were found to be more suspicious of confessions of love before a couple has sex. —Na’ama Razon

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