According to this study in PLOS One, Facebook use predicts negative shifts in subjective well-being in the short term and the long run (thanks to Josh Shepherd for the pointer). According to the researchers, "On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. Rather than enhancing well-being, however, these findings suggest that Facebook may undermine it." This isn't totally surprising, given earlier research on the topic, but it's interesting nonetheless. It should be noted that another study suggests it might be a good idea to post more often if you're feeling lonely...
Needless to say, we both thought this quasi-provocative video was slightly disturbing (the computer animated talking helicopter has nipple rings). I even entertained the possibility we were brainwashed or subjected to subliminal advertisements (unbeknownst to us, of course). In any case, the video made me think about the dark side of the well-being research this blog is about: it's undeniable that unhealthy behavior can reliably make us happy (in some cases)!
Thus, I found it funny that after we got back, I was perusing the Journal of Happiness Studies and I came across an article which seems to show that Taiwanese kids who eat fast food are fatter and happier than Taiwanese children who don't eat it. This is slightly surprising, given the fact that it's been shown food has a fleeting effect on your subjective well-being.
As always, confounding variables should be accounted for, but, for the sake of argument, let's suppose that there is a causal connection. If this is so, we might be forced to make a choice between 'objective' and 'subjective' aspects of well-being. The authors point out that we must be aware that an unintended consequence of fighting childhood obesity might be lower overall levels of happiness.
Even though I think we can teach children to choose healthy food, I doubt that we can ever ignore the allure of food which is so sweet, fat and fast. Thank you, evolution! In the age of sugar substitutes and oral contraceptives, do we really need to exercise discipline? When what feels good isn't good for us, we can use technology to bridge the gap between happiness and health. We need not exercise restraint. We can, in short, have our cake and eat it too.
According to a new study in Psychoneuroendocrinology psychological problems, such as stress and anxiety, aggravate allergic reactions! As you know, this is one of many examples of the intimate connection between the well-being of the brain and the rest of the body I discuss here.
Often, this connection can lead to a vicious cycle, in which a broken body undermines the integrity of the mind, which exacerbates health problems. Mental illnesses can take a serious toll on your physical well-being which will compromise, in some cases, your sanity.
I used to think that consummate love couldn't last long because adaptation effects would inevitably extinguish passion and therefore, the most a long term couple could hope for was companionate love (it should be pointed out that these are specialized terms). It turns out, thankfully, I was dead wrong!
Recently, Stephen Stitch argued that it may be difficult to come up with a good account of moral judgment--an account of moral judgment that captures the ordinary concept--because there is no coherent concept of morality (indeed, we have no reason to believe that there is, and one might argue, given the persistence of disagreement, reason to believe there isn't). Recent research seems to show that there isn't a single psychological system which generates our moral judgments: there are a hodgepodge of different systems, designed by evolution to address different problems, pushing us in different directions. Josh Greene for instance, has suggested that the psychological systems which generate our deontic moral judgments are distinct from the psychological systems that generate utilitarian moral judgments. Often, these two distinct cognitive processes, designed for different purposes, issue inconsistent moral judgments.
I think this work provides a realistic framework in which to understand our welfare judgments. In an earlier post, I suggested that the social intuitionist model of moral judgment might also apply to our welfare judgments, but it wouldn't be entirely surprising if we discovered that there isn't a single psychological process that generates our welfare judgments. Instead, it seems we have reason to believe that welfare judgments are the by-product of a cornucopia of kludges. Some of these kludges might be designed to protect our progeny (which would explain why we think that what happens to our children after we die can affect our well-being even though we are dead) and other kludges might be activated in situations in which deception is afoot (as is the case in the experience machine thought experiment). This approach to understanding the intricacies of our moral judgments might also help us understand our strange and contradictory welfare judgments. Once we understand how we think about well-being from a psychological/evolutionary perspective our traditional beliefs about well-being might be altered profoundly (as our traditional beliefs about morality might be)...
According to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, Utah is the happiest state in the nation (I'm looking at you, Mormons) and West Virginia is the least happy (I blame the ham). The index also measured six subcategories: life evaluation, emotional health, physical health, healthy behavior, work environment and basic access (whatever that means). What does wealth have to do with it? Take a look at this scatter plot showing the relationship between a state’s median household income and its well-being:
Seems...scattered, doesn't it? As usual, there is a correlation...
Lately, I've been wondering how similar our welfare judgments are to moral judgments according to the social intuitionist model of morality advocated by Jonathan Haidt. According to the social intuitionist model, our moral judgments are driven by our intuitions and emotions and our ethical principles are merely post hoc rationalizations of these intuitions and emotions.
The social intuitionist model has interesting experimental consequences. If the social intuitionist model is correct, bizarre factors, such as whether you think somebody just farted, might play a role in the formation of your moral judgments. This is exactly what the research seems to show: it seems disgusted people tend to form harsher moral judgments than their non-disgusted counterparts.
I wonder to what extent welfare principles are merely post hoc rationalizations of our intuitions and emotions. It's often taken for granted that our judgments about well-being reveal the nature of welfare principles, but these judgments might just reveal how we feel about certain lifestyles.
If our welfare intuitions are the result of the affective factors that moral judgments seem to be, there are ways to show it. For instance, if the odor of the desk which you are using in order to answer a questionnaire about how well off Wally is influences your welfare judgments of Wally, we might take this as some evidence that your feelings of disgust are informing your welfare judgments. This is just one potential experiment. We need a body of coverging evidence to show that the social intuitionist model is right. The important point is that it's possible to figure out whether your welfare judgments depend on how you feel empirically.
Still, I imagine you might take it that disgust is a relevant consideration in which case your welfare judgments ought to be mediated by what you think is disgusting. This could present a serious problem: if there isn't a fact of the matter about what's disgusting, as most of us seem to believe, there isn't a fact of the matter about who's well off. Then again, that might just be the way well-being (and morality) rolls!