The Good Life

Kevin Lewis

March 21, 2010

Smile Intensity in Photographs Predicts Longevity

Ernest Abel & Michael Kruger
Psychological Science, forthcoming

"Photographs were taken from the Baseball Register for 1952 (Spink, Rickart, & Abramovich, 1952). We restricted our analysis to players who debuted prior to 1950, and we included only photographs in which the player appeared to be looking at the viewer...Players with Duchenne smiles were half as likely to die in any year compared with nonsmilers, HR = 0.50, p = .006...In this model, smile intensity accounted for 35% of the explained variability in survival"


The relative relativity of material and experiential purchases

Travis Carter & Thomas Gilovich
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, January 2010, Pages 146-159

When it comes to spending disposable income, experiential purchases tend to make people happier than material purchases (Van Boven & Gilovich, 2003). But why are experiences more satisfying? We propose that the evaluation of experiences tends to be less comparative than that of material possessions, such that potentially invidious comparisons have less impact on satisfaction with experiences than with material possessions. Support for this contention was obtained in 8 studies. We found that participants were less satisfied with their material purchases because they were more likely to ruminate about unchosen options (Study 1); that participants tended to maximize when selecting material goods and satisfice when selecting experiences (Study 2); that participants examined unchosen material purchases more than unchosen experiential purchases (Study 3); and that, relative to experiences, participants' satisfaction with their material possessions was undermined more by comparisons to other available options (Studies 4 and 5A), to the same option at a different price (Studies 5B and 6), and to the purchases of other individuals (Study 5C). Our results suggest that experiential purchase decisions are easier to make and more conducive to well-being.


Protecting the self through consumption: Status goods as affirmational commodities

Niro Sivanathan & Nathan Pettit
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, forthcoming

Individuals conspicuously consume to signal their wealth. As a variant to this economic explanation, four studies explored individual's psychological need for self-integrity as a potential motivating force for these consumption decisions. Relying on both field and experimental studies, and employing multiple instantiations of high-status goods and self-threat, we demonstrate that individuals consume status-infused products for their reparative effects on the ego. Individuals under self-threat sought ownership of high-status goods to nurse their psychological wounds (Study 1), and when afforded an alternate route to repair their self-integrity, sought these products less (Study 2). Furthermore, among a representative sample of US consumers, low-income individuals' lowered self-esteem drove their willingness to spend on high-status goods (Study 3). Finally, these high-status goods serve the purpose of shielding an individual's ego from future self-threats (Study 4). The compensatory role of high-status goods has important implications for consumer decision-making and public policies aimed at reducing consumer debt.


Eavesdropping on Happiness: Well-Being Is Related to Having Less Small Talk and More Substantive Conversations

Matthias Mehl, Simine Vazire, Shannon Holleran & Shelby Clark
Psychological Science, forthcoming

"Results were consistent with prior research (Diener & Seligman, 2002) in that higher well-being was associated with spending less time alone, r = -.35, and more time talking to others, r = .31. Further, higher well-being was associated with having less small talk, r = -.33, and having more substantive conversations, r = .28. For example, compared with the unhappiest participants (z = -2.0 SD), the happiest participants (z = +1.5 SD) spent about 25% less time alone (58.6% vs. 76.8%) and about 70% more time talking (39.7% vs. 23.2%). They also had roughly one third as much small talk (10.2% vs. 28.3%) and twice as many substantive conversations (45.9% vs. 21.8%)"


Prosocial Spending and Well-Being: Cross-Cultural Evidence for a Psychological Universal

Lara Aknin, Chris Barrington-Leigh, Elizabeth Dunn, John Helliwell, Robert Biswas-Diener, Imelda Kemeza, Paul Nyende, Claire Ashton-James & Michael Norton
Harvard Working Paper, January 2010

The present research examines whether using one's financial resources to help others (prosocial spending) yields emotional benefits across diverse socioeconomic and cultural contexts. We test the relationship between charitable giving and well-being within 142 countries in the Gallup World Poll. Despite the large differences in income across countries, prosocial spending predicts happiness in most countries of the world, even while controlling for individual level income. Extending these findings, we report the results of an experiment in Canada and Uganda in which participants were randomly assigned to recall a previous purchase made for themselves or someone else. In both Canada and Uganda, participants recalling a purchase made for someone else reported significantly higher levels of happiness than participants recalling a purchase made for themselves - despite the substantial variation in the form that spending took in the two countries. Taken together, these findings provide the first support for a psychological universal: human beings across diverse cultures derive emotional benefits from using their financial resources to help others.


Is There a Downside to Shooting for the Stars? Unrealized Educational Expectations and Symptoms of Depression

John Reynolds & Chardie Baird
American Sociological Review, February 2010, Pages 151-172

Despite decades of research on the benefits of educational expectations, researchers have failed to show that unrealized plans are consequential for mental health, as self-discrepancy and other social psychological theories would predict. This article uses two national longitudinal studies of youth to test whether unrealized educational expectations are associated with depression in adulthood. Negative binomial regression analyses show that unmet expectations are associated with a greater risk of depression among young adults who share similar educational expectations. The apparent consequences of aiming high and falling short result, however, from lower attainment, not the gap between plans and attainment. Results indicate almost no long-term emotional costs of "shooting for the stars" rather than planning for the probable, once educational attainment is taken into account. This lack of association also holds after accounting for early mental health, the magnitude of the shortfall, the stability of expectations, and college-related resources, and it is robust across two distinct cohorts of high school students. We develop a theory of "adaptive resilience" to account for these findings and, because aiming high and failing are not consequential for mental health, conclude that society should not dissuade unpromising students from dreams of college.


Restorative Effects of Virtual Nature Settings

Deltcho Valtchanov, Kevin Barton & Colin Ellard
Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, forthcoming

Previous research regarding the potential benefits of exposing individuals to surrogate nature (photographs and videos) has found that such immersion results in restorative effects such as increased positive affect, decreased negative affect, and decreased stress. In the current experiment, we examined whether immersion in a virtual computer-generated nature setting could produce restorative effects. Twenty-two participants were equally divided between two conditions, while controlling for gender. In each condition, participants performed a stress-induction task, and were then immersed in virtual reality (VR) for 10 minutes. The control condition featured a slide show in VR, and the nature experimental condition featured an active exploration of a virtual forest. Participants in the nature condition were found to exhibit increased positive affect and decreased stress after immersion in VR when compared to those in the control condition. The results suggest that immersion in virtual nature settings has similar beneficial effects as exposure to surrogate nature. These results also suggest that VR can be used as a tool to study and understand restorative effects.


You're Having Fun When Time Flies: The Hedonic Consequences of Subjective Time Progression

Aaron Sackett, Tom Meyvis, Leif Nelson, Benjamin Converse & Anna Sackett
Psychological Science, January 2010, Pages 111-117

Seven studies tested the hypothesis that people use subjective time progression in hedonic evaluation. When people believe that time has passed unexpectedly quickly, they rate tasks as more engaging, noises as less irritating, and songs as more enjoyable. We propose that felt time distortion operates as a metacognitive cue that people implicitly attribute to their enjoyment of an experience (i.e., time flew, so the experience must have been fun). Consistent with this attribution account, the effects of felt time distortion on enjoyment ratings were moderated by the need for attribution, the strength of the "time flies" naive theory, and the presence of an alternative attribution. These findings suggest a previously unexplored process through which subjective time progression can influence the hedonic evaluation of experiences.


Age and race differences in the trajectories of self-esteem

Benjamin Shaw, Jersey Liang & Neal Krause
Psychology and Aging, March 2010, Pages 84-94

The purpose of this research was to assess age- and race-based variation in within-persons changes in self-esteem over a 16-year period. We used hierarchical linear modeling with data from 3,617 adults 25 years of age and older who were interviewed up to 4 times. Self-esteem increased, on average, over the course of the study period. At the same time, significant age variations around this trend were observed, with younger adults experiencing increases in self-esteem and older adults experiencing decreases. In general, race differences were not evident with respect to average levels or rates of change in self-esteem. However, a significant Age × Race interaction suggested that late-life declines in self-esteem were steeper for Blacks compared with Whites. These findings suggest the presence of age- and race-based stratification with respect to self-esteem. Future work in this area should examine the health and well-being effects of declining self-esteem during old age.


Low life purpose and high hostility are related to an attenuated decline in nocturnal blood pressure

Elizabeth Mezick, Karen Matthews, Martica Hall, Thomas Kamarck, Patrick Strollo, Daniel Buysse, Jane Owens & Steven Reis
Health Psychology, March 2010, Pages 196-204

Objective: An attenuation of the nighttime decline in blood pressure (BP) predicts cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular-related mortality, beyond daytime BP levels. We investigated whether positive and negative psychological attributes were associated with sleep-wake BP ratios and examined sleep parameters as potential mediators of these relationships.

Design: Two hundred twenty-four participants (50% men; 43% Black; mean age = 60 years) underwent ambulatory BP monitoring for 2 days and nights. Self-reports of positive and negative psychological attributes were collected. In-home polysomnography was conducted for 2 nights, and a wrist actigraph was worn for 9 nights. Main Outcome Measures: Sleep-wake mean arterial pressure (MAP) ratios.

Results: After adjustment for demographics, body mass index, and hypertensive status, low life purpose and high hostility were associated with high sleep-wake MAP ratios. Depression, anxiety, and optimism were not related to MAP ratios. Sleep latency, fragmentation, architecture, and the apnea-hypopnea index were examined as potential mediators between psychological attributes and MAP ratios; only long sleep latency mediated the relationship between hostility and MAP ratios.

Conclusion: Low life purpose and high hostility are associated with high sleep-wake BP ratios in Black and White adults, and these relationships are largely independent of sleep.


Why are you smiling at me? Social functions of enjoyment and non-enjoyment smiles

Lucy Johnston, Lynden Miles & Neil Macrae
British Journal of Social Psychology, March 2010, Pages 107-127

In three experiments, we investigated the spontaneous attention of perceivers to the nature of targets' facial expressions, specifically whether they were displaying an enjoyment or a non-enjoyment smile. Further, we investigated the social functions of sensitivity to smile type and the consequences of such sensitivity for subsequent interactions. Results demonstrated that perceivers did indeed spontaneously attend to smile type, especially in situations where issues of trust or cooperation were made salient. Further, this sensitivity had an impact both on the evaluations of the target individuals and the cooperative behaviour of individuals towards those displaying enjoyment and non-enjoyment smiles. Participants evaluated individuals displaying enjoyment smiles more positively than those displaying non-enjoyment smiles and had higher rates of cooperation with those displaying enjoyment smiles. These results are discussed in terms of the social functions of facial expressions.


Objective Confirmation of Subjective Measures of Human Well-Being: Evidence from the U.S.A.

Andrew Oswald & Stephen Wu
Science, 29 January 2010, Pages 576-579

A huge research literature, across the behavioral and social sciences, uses information on individuals' subjective well-being. These are responses to questions - asked by survey interviewers or medical personnel - such as "how happy do you feel on a scale from 1 to 4?" Yet there is little scientific evidence that such data are meaningful. This study examines a 2005-2008 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System random sample of 1.3 million United States citizens. Life-satisfaction in each U.S. state is measured. Across America, people's answers trace out the same pattern of quality of life as previously estimated, using solely nonsubjective data, in a literature from economics (so-called "compensating differentials" neoclassical theory due originally to Adam Smith). There is a state-by-state match (r = 0.6, P < 0.001) between subjective and objective well-being. This result has some potential to help to unify disciplines.


Money, Happiness, and Aspirations: An Experimental Study

Michael McBride
Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, forthcoming

The past decade has witnessed an explosion of interest in the scientific study of happiness. Economists, in particular, find that happiness increases in income but decreases in income aspirations, and this work prompts examination of how aspirations form and adapt over time. This paper presents results from the first experimental study of how multiple factors - past payments, social comparisons, and expectations - influence aspiration formation and reported satisfaction. I find that expectations and social comparisons significantly affect reported satisfaction, and that subjects choose to compare themselves with similar subjects when possible. These findings support an aspirations-based theory of happiness.


Inspiration and the promotion of well-being: Tests of causality and mediation

Todd Thrash, Andrew Elliot, Laura Maruskin & Scott Cassidy
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, March 2010, Pages 488-506

The influence of inspiration on well-being was examined in 4 studies. In Study 1, experimental manipulation of exposure to extraordinary competence increased positive affect, and inspiration accounted for this effect. In Study 2, trait inspiration predicted an increase in positive hedonic and eudaimonic well-being variables (positive affect, life satisfaction, vitality, and self-actualization) across a 3-month period, even when the Big 5 traits, initial levels of all well-being variables, and social desirability biases were controlled. In Study 3, both trait inspiration and personal goals inspiration predicted increases in positive well-being variables across a 3-month period. In contrast, well-being did not predict longitudinal change in inspiration. Study 4, a diary study, extended the relation between inspiration and well-being to the within-person level of analysis. For given individuals, variations in inspiration across mornings predicted variations in evening levels of positive well-being variables. These effects were mediated by purpose in life and gratitude. These studies provide converging evidence that inspiration enhances well-being and document 2 parallel mediating processes.


The Rewarding Aspects of Music Listening Are Related to Degree of Emotional Arousal

Valorie Salimpoor, Mitchel Benovoy, Gregory Longo, Jeremy Cooperstock & Robert Zatorre
PLoS ONE, October 2009, e7487

Background: Listening to music is amongst the most rewarding experiences for humans. Music has no functional resemblance to other rewarding stimuli, and has no demonstrated biological value, yet individuals continue listening to music for pleasure. It has been suggested that the pleasurable aspects of music listening are related to a change in emotional arousal, although this link has not been directly investigated. In this study, using methods of high temporal sensitivity we investigated whether there is a systematic relationship between dynamic increases in pleasure states and physiological indicators of emotional arousal, including changes in heart rate, respiration, electrodermal activity, body temperature, and blood volume pulse.

Methodology: Twenty-six participants listened to self-selected intensely pleasurable music and "neutral" music that was individually selected for them based on low pleasure ratings they provided on other participants' music. The "chills" phenomenon was used to index intensely pleasurable responses to music. During music listening, continuous real-time recordings of subjective pleasure states and simultaneous recordings of sympathetic nervous system activity, an objective measure of emotional arousal, were obtained.

Principal Findings: Results revealed a strong positive correlation between ratings of pleasure and emotional arousal. Importantly, a dissociation was revealed as individuals who did not experience pleasure also showed no significant increases in emotional arousal.

Conclusions/Significance: These results have broader implications by demonstrating that strongly felt emotions could be rewarding in themselves in the absence of a physically tangible reward or a specific functional goal.

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