Power of God, why permanence makes us happier, and wikiscanning

There were several interesting stories in the NYT Sunday Magazine section “Year in Ideas” section.

We’ve previously reported on wikiscanning.

But the “God Effect” highlights something that we have observed in our work, the strong connection between religiosity and altruism and philanthropy, even if it is altruism or philanthropy for secular purposes. The “God Effect” suggests that those who are more religious are constantly in the background of their mind thinking “What would God do?”, “What would Allah do?”, etc. and this leads them to make more charitable decisions, or in the case of the “dictator game” experiment of Ara Norenzayan, fairer distributions with an opponent. [Interestingly, Norzenzayan, in a second experiment primed participants to think of police, contract and civil, and found that this also led to people proposing fairer distributions, although in this case for the religious and secular alike.]

In “Hope Can Be Worse Than Hopelessness“, the magazine summarizes research of Peter Ubel, of University of Michigan on colostomy patients (who had portions of their colons removed or bypassed). This condition is so unpleasant that many say that they would prefer to die. Six months later, the temporary patients who were likely to heal and have their bowels reconnected” showed worse quality of life and lower happiness than ones that expected their colostomy to be permanent.

This mirrors work done by Dan Gilbert (and reported here at 15:15). Harvard students in a photography course took photos of their favorite things of Harvard; they blew up their 2 favorite photographs into beautiful prints and were then told at the nth hour that they had to give one up permanently. A control group was told that they had 4 days to switch their choice if they changed their mind and staff would come to their dormroom for convenience to swap. Those who were stuck with their photograph liked it a lot more during these 4 days and afterwards. A “reversible condition is not conducive to happiness”, Gilbert says. But Gilbert notes that 2/3 of Harvard students choose to be in a course where they have a chance at the end to choose their photograph rather than have to pick one irreversibly, even though this ability to choose leads to lower happiness.


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