Category Archives: Research

Feel the Heat

Here in Toronto, we’ve been enjoying an exceedingly mild winter. It’s the kind of winter where you forget your toque at home and it doesn’t really matter. Where snowflakes, if there are any at all, settle themselves on the ground sporadically and with a wry smile.

That’s why the last few days of weather have been less than welcome here. Biting wind. Icy temperatures. Actual genuine 100% Canadian snow. And a deep, widespread feeling of distrust.

Eh?

This surprised me, too. But research has shown that when the physical temperature around us drops, we tend to be more suspicious of other people’s motivations. Conversely, when we get a blast of heat, we increase our trust and positivity towards others. Apparently, our systems for monitoring body temperature and controlling emotion are linked, and the warm or cold air around us can influence our feelings. (This field of science, in case it comes up at Trivia Pursuit, is known as embodied cognition.)

You can imagine all the creative experiments the researchers are coming up with to prove it. In one test, a “stranger” (sneaky scientist) asked someone to hold her cup for a minute while she wrote something down. If the cup was steaming hot, the person holding it was more likely to think of the stranger as a warm, kind individual. But if the cup was icy cold, they thought she was a bit of a – well, we won’t put that in print.

I may be misrepresenting the science somewhat. Perhaps the effects were a bit subtler, but they were quite unmistakable. So why has nature wired us to feel more connected to each other in the presence of higher temperatures? One theory is that if we trust people who make us feel warmth, we’re more likely to cuddle with them, hence saving the energy it would otherwise take our bodies to fight off chill. Hey, if it’s good enough for penguins…

Snowstorm2

More snow? Blast it. (Photo by Jason Lemay/FreeImages.com)

Optimism May Save Your Life

More and more research has been showing that people who are optimistic – those of us who generally expect good things to happen in our lives – may have a reduced risk of certain health problems, like heart disease.

Psychologists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have now released a new study that gives us even more to feel positive about. They found that women who are the most optimistic are least likely to die – from any cause.

Optimism seems to steer us towards a more wholesome lifestyle. And when problems do crop up, optimism helps us manage them in a healthier way: more workouts, fewer benders.

The best part is, you can make yourself optimistic. In earlier research, it’s been shown that just by concentrating on a positive outcome, or jotting down a few notes about what that would look like – I will nail that job interview, I will have a super-awesome time when my in-laws visit – you can heighten your own optimism.

Naturally, doing good deeds will also turn up your happy dial. Not only will you get a helper’s high, thanks to that inevitable rush of endorphins, but we predict you’ll also have a brighter outlook on life. How can you not feel optimistic when your act of kindness has directly resulted in more research for leukemia, or a warm meal for a homeless person?

And now we know that you could be lengthening your life at the same time.

Super-awesome.

smilingolderwoman

This woman is feeling extremely optimistic that she’ll get the new Louise Vuitton stilettos she wanted for her 95th birthday. (Photo by Robson Oliveira/FreeImages.com)

Do Deep Pockets Mean Big Donations?

You might assume that wealthy people are tremendously generous with their donor dollars. After all, they have a lot to spare. Plus we have absolute evidence of their munificence, with all those renamed hospital wings and university buildings and such to prove it.

But being rich doesn’t necessarily make you open-handed. In fact, on average, those who are swimming in it (P.S. not me – I don’t even own water wings!) can actually be a tad stingy. One analysis of income tax returns in the U.S. found that people who earned $100,000 and up donated only 4.2% of their discretionary income to charity, while middle-class earners gave 7.6%.

A new study at the University of British Columbia has now found that if you want rich people to up their donation game, you have to craft the charitable appeal accordingly. Wealthy peeps seem to enjoy donating when they’re made to feel like a bit of a hero, singlehandedly saving the world. Less affluent folks, on the other hand, will have their heartstrings surely tugged when they feel as though we’re all pulling together to make a difference as a community.

I won’t judge. I’m just the messenger. But if you run a charity for a good cause and you’re planning a donor campaign soon, you should probably be taking notes right now.

And if you’re considering giving to charity: Well, we know that donating money to help others can improve our own well-being. We gain both mood and health benefits. So whether you’re loaded with cash or working hard to make ends meet or somewhere in between: seriously, consider a few dollars in a kind direction. You’ll reap a few rewards, too.

handwithcash

Yes, all you non-Canadian readers, this is indeed what our paper money looks like here. I like to think it reflects our colourful personalities.

How to be Jollier on the Job

Do you hate your job? Resent your boss? Are you counting the hours (or shirking your responsibilities and reading blogs like this one) until you can punch the clock and just go home?

Let me share with you a few simple ways to rekindle your work passion. You could invest in a high-grade, fully automatic espresso machine for your cubicle. You could fly around to all your meetings with a jet pack. Or you could be more helpful at work.

I’ll warrant that last idea is, by far, the cheapest.

There’s even a term for this: “office altruism.” It’s when you take time to help your colleague polish her big presentation. You offer to proofread your co-worker’s grant proposal. You wash the communal dishes in the lunchroom. Whichever way you do it, apparently, you’ll end up happier on the job.

That’s what researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison claimed in a paper. They shared evidence that people who put a higher priority on helping others in the workplace were happier decades later.

What does that mean for someone like me, I wonder, who works in an office of one – and a home office, at that? Does it count that I occasionally crouch over my dozing dog and charitably give her a fine belly rub? It certainly lifts my spirits when I do. And she seems to like it.

Hmm, I think I’ve stumbled on an interesting new research direction for the folks at the University of Wisconsin-Madison…

happyworker

She’s downright euphoric. Must be a mighty helpful person around the call centre. (stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Happy Hours

Do the people in your workplace tend to be a negative, non-do-gooder bunch? Do they shirk their duties, badmouth you to the boss and steal your paper clips? Tell management they ought to try piping in some happy tunes.

Researchers at Cornell University experimented with different kinds of music to see how it affected the behaviours of groups of people. They found that cheerful, upbeat music – Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” was one of the songs used – made the study participants happier and more likely to perform tasks that would benefit the group. In other words, they worked well together. “Happy music has the power to make the workplace more cooperative and supportive,” one of the co-authors says in a press release.

Sounds promising. Now if I could only get “Brown-Eyed Girl” to stop running on repeat in my brain…

Cornell080

Good Guys Get Lucky

This just in, from the As-If-You-Needed-Any-More-Reasons Department: The more you do good deeds, the more you’ll do the dirty deed.

It’s true! So proclaims a study led by a Nipissing University psychologist. According to the research, altruistic people – those who frequently help others, give blood and donate to charity – not only are getting some, they’re actually getting more.

Isn’t it logical? A date who is overly generous to others is bound to be a ton of fun between the sheets. But if you’d rather take the long view, consider this: A selfless partner will most certainly make a superb baby daddy.

So, as the university’s news release says: “If you want to get a little, you should trying giving a little.” I much prefer that catchy tagline to the decidedly unsexy title of the published study: “Altruism Predicts Mating Success in Humans.” Now, that’s deflating.

Bed

Here at 50 Good Deeds we’ll say whatever it takes to convince you. (FreeImages.com/Lotus Head)

Survival Kit(ty)

You’ve heard those heroic pet stories. I’ve certainly posted my share of them. (Read examples here, and here.)

But what if some pets save lives not by dragging people from burning buildings, or managing to dial 911 without opposable thumbs, but simply by existing?

Researchers at Georgia Southern University recently took a close look at data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. They found that in the case of women who’d died over the course of the survey, they were a lot less likely to have died of stroke if they were pet owners – in most cases, keepers of cats.

So, do cats do us good? Does feline companionship somehow protect the heart? Should cardiologists be telling their most critical patients to eat more greens, get more exercise and take in a few more stray kitties?

Unfortunately, the data is too limited to draw any definite conclusions about the benefits of cats to cardiovascular health. In other words, “Our study should not be interpreted to encourage more people to own pets,” senior author Jian Zhang cautioned the Thomson Reuters news agency.

It’s possible, for example, that cats don’t have any impact on cardiovascular health at all. It just may be, says Zhang, that the type of person who tends to own cats also tends to have a strong heart.

Well, that link makes complete sense to me.

So I guess we can’t say for sure, at this point, if cats are indeed cardio-protective. But there’s one takeaway, at least: You ought to stop making fun of cat ladies.

After all, they may outlive you.

Kittens

Any excuse to post a kitten photo, right? (Photo by Tina Phillips / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)