Posts Tagged ‘Sociology’

What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness

January 3, 2016

The search for happiness is an interesting one.

Fortunately, the longest ever study on happiness has a pretty simple answer for us …


The UN’s Global Report on Happiness

October 1, 2013

There has been much research into happiness.


According to the 2013 World Happiness Report, Denmark is the happiest country in the world, followed by Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Sweden (Australia is 10th and the US is 17th).

Sponsored by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the global survey took place between 2010 and 2012 and ranked the happiness levels of people in 156 countries, using such criteria as wealth, health, freedom to make life choices, having someone to count on in times of trouble, freedom from corruption, and the generosity of fellow citizens.

According to the UN report, there are some common themes in the happiest places on Earth, including:

1. It (mostly) pays to be rich.

2. More money means more problems.

3. Being poor in Europe can be particularly rough.

4. Nice weather doesn’t correlate to happiness.

5. Happy people ride bicycles—by choice.

Learn more here.

Power diminishes empathy

August 20, 2013

Researchers have some new insights into how power diminishes a person’s capacity for empathy. According to scientists, a sense of power shuts down a part of the brain that helps us connect with others.


For their study that builds on past information about how the brain operates, the researchers found that even the smallest bit of power – for instance from a job promotion or more money – can shut down our ability to empathize with others.

It seems the sense of power has an adverse affect on the mirror system of people. The mirror system is composed of special brain cells called mirror neurons which have been proposed as a driving force for imitation which lies at the root of much human learning and empathy. Learn more here, here or here.

Why Facial Disfigurements Creep Us Out

December 15, 2012

Whether we realize it or not, most of us have a knee-jerk reaction when we see someone with a facial disfigurement, such as psoriasis, a cleft lip, or a birthmark. We may sit away from them on the bus, hesitate to shake their hand, or even give a barely masked look of revulsion. A new study suggests these disgust reactions stem from an ancient disease-avoidance system that normally prevents us from catching illnesses. Essentially, we treat facial disfigurements like infectious diseases.

Psychologists have recently begun to uncover where disgust comes from, with some researchers believing the emotion is similar to fear. Fear evolved to keep you away from large animals that want to eat you from the outside. Disgust evolved to keep you away from smaller animals that kill you from the inside. Our subconscious minds constantly scan the environment for signs of potential diseases. If we see one, disgust kicks in and we avoid that object or person like the plague.

But it seems our disease-avoidance system sometimes gets it wrong. Previous studies suggested these mistakes underlie the aversion people have to various disfigurements. Learn more here.

Why Do We Have Personal Space?

September 6, 2012

We begin to develop our individual sense of personal space around age 3 or 4, and the sizes of our bubbles cement themselves by adolescence. Scientists have determined that the bubbles are constructed and monitored by the amygdala, the brain region involved in fear.

The amygdala is activated when you invade people’s personal space. This probably reflects the strong emotional response when somebody gets too close to us. Scientists confirmed this in a rare patient with lesions to her amygdala: she felt entirely comfortable no matter how close somebody got to her, and had no apparent personal space.

Futhermore, abnormal development of the amygdala may also explain why people with autism have difficulties maintaining a normal social distance to other people. Learn more here.

Education improves longevity

May 20, 2012

Shortly after the Second World War, the Swedish government conducted a vast social experiment to decide whether to implement educational reform. An examination of data from people who took part in the study has revealed that those lucky enough to have experienced the reformed system have been more likely than their contemporaries to live a long life.

The Swedish government decided to undertake a controlled study of its proposed new school system — so, from 1949 to 1962, all 1.2 million children in the Swedish state education system were set on one of two paths. In a slowly increasing proportion of the school districts across the country, it became compulsory for children to attend a comprehensive school for 9 years. The rest of Sweden provided a control group, in which children stuck to the existing system: mandatory schooling for 8 years.

The results … a longer period of education correlated with significant educational benefits as well as extended live span!

Repeating the Swedish experiment on a similar scale would be almost impossible now. No one could advocate deliberately withholding education from a group of children. It would be entirely unethical. Learn more here.

Opposites Don’t Actually Attract

February 29, 2012

Despite of what you may have heard, opposites actually don’t attract. Despite what most people say about seeking a wider circle of friendship (say, in a large college setting, where there are a lot of different types of people available), they typically befriend only those most similar to themselves.

In an ideal world, being able to meet lots of different people at college would lead to a diversity of friends; we’d take advantage of the human variety on display.

Instead of learning from people who were extremely different – who disagreed with their stance on abortion, or didn’t like ultimate frisbee, or never attended football games – students obey the similarity-attraction effect, sifting through the vast population to find the most homologous possible circle of friends. As the researchers put it, “the larger social contexts afford better opportunity for finegrained assortment.” Learn more here or here.

It’s only four degrees of separation

January 3, 2012

Six degrees of separation refers to the idea that everyone is on average approximately six steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person on Earth, so that a chain of, “a friend of a friend” statements can be made, on average, to connect any two people in six steps or fewer.

Now Facebook researchers have pored through the records of their 721 million active users, who collectively have designated 69 billion “friendships” among them. The number of friends differs widely. Some users have designated only a single friend, probably the person who persuaded them to join Facebook. Others have accumulated thousands. The median is about 100.

To test the six degrees theory, the Facebook researchers systematically tested how many friend connections they needed to link any two users. Globally, they found a sharp peak at five hops, meaning that most pairs of Facebook users could be connected through four intermediate people also on Facebook (92 per cent). Paths were even shorter within a single country, typically involving only three other people, even in large countries such as the US. Learn more here.

The World of 100

June 11, 2011

If the world were a village of 100 people, what characteristics would they have? Well, only 1 of them would have a college education, see:

Heaps more posters like this here.

Nearly 7 Billion: Are you typical?

March 6, 2011

Read more here.