What is Social Connection?


Social connection is the experience of feeling close and connected to others. It involves feeling loved, cared for, and valued, and forms the basis of interpersonal relationships.

“Connection is the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.” Brené Brown, Professor of social work at the University of Houston.

Increasingly, social connection is understood as a core human need, and the desire to connect as a fundamental drive. It is crucial to development; without it, social animals experience distress and face severe developmental consequences. In humans, one of the most social species, social connection is essential to nearly every aspect of health and well-being. Lack of connection, or loneliness, has been linked to inflammation, accelerated aging and cardiovascular health risk, suicide, and all-cause mortality.

Feeling socially connected depends on the quality and number of meaningful relationships one has with family, friends, and acquaintances. Going beyond the individual level, it also involves a feeling of connecting to a larger community. Connectedness on a community level has profound benefits for both individuals and society.

Related Terms

Social support is the help, advice, and comfort that we receive from those with whom we have stable, positive relationships. Importantly, it appears to be the perception, or feeling, of being supported, rather than objective number of connections, that appears to buffer stress and affect our health and psychology most strongly.

Close relationships refer to those relationships between friends or romantic partners that are characterised by love, caring, commitment, and intimacy.

Attachment is a deep, emotional bond between two or more people, a “lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” Attachment theory, developed by John Bowlby during the 1950s, is a theory that remains influential in psychology today.

Conviviality has many different interpretations and understandings, one of which denotes the idea of living together and enjoying each other’s company. This understanding of the term is derived from the French convivialité, which can be traced back to Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in the 19th Century. Other interpretations of conviviality include the art of living in the company of others; everyday experiences of community cohesion and togetherness in diverse settings; and the capacity of individuals to interact creatively and autonomously with one another and their environment for the satisfaction of their needs. This third interpretation is rooted in the work of Ivan Illich from the 1970s onwards. Social connection is fundamental to all of these interpretations of conviviality.

A Basic Need

In his influential theory on the hierarchy of needs, Abraham Maslow proposed that our physiological needs are the most basic and necessary to our survival, and must be satisfied before we can move on to satisfying more complex social needs like love and belonging. However, research over the past few decades has begun to shift our understanding of this hierarchy. Social connection and belonging may in fact be a basic need, as powerful as our need for food or water. Mammals are born relatively helpless, and rely on their caregivers not only for affection, but for survival. This may be evolutionarily why mammals need and seek connection, and also for why they suffer prolonged distress and health consequences when that need is not met.

In 1965, Harry Harlow conducted his landmark monkey studies. He separated baby monkeys from their mothers, and observed which surrogate mothers the baby monkeys bonded with: a wire “mother” that provided food, or a cloth “mother” that was soft and warm. Overwhelmingly, the baby monkeys preferred to spend time clinging to the cloth mother, only reaching over to the wire mother when they became too hungry to continue without food. This study questioned the idea that food is the most powerful primary reinforcement for learning. Instead, Harlow’s studies suggested that warmth, comfort, and affection (as perceived from the soft embrace of the cloth mother) are crucial to the mother-child bond, and may be a powerful reward that mammals may seek in and of itself. Although historically significant, it is important to acknowledge that this study does not meet current research standards for the ethical treatment of animals.

In 1995, Roy Baumeister proposed his influential belongingness hypothesis: that human beings have a fundamental drive to form lasting relationships, to belong. He provided substantial evidence that indeed, the need to belong and form close bonds with others is itself a motivating force in human behaviour. This theory is supported by evidence that people form social bonds relatively easily, are reluctant to break social bonds, and keep the effect on their relationships in mind when they interpret situations. He also contends that our emotions are so deeply linked to our relationships that one of the primary functions of emotion may be to form and maintain social bonds, and that both partial and complete deprivation of relationships leads to not only painful but pathological consequences. Satisfying or disrupting our need to belong, our need for connection, has been found to influence cognition, emotion, and behaviour.

In 2011, Roy Baumeister furthered this notion of belongingness by proposing the Need to Belong Theory, which asserts that humans have an inherent drive to maintain a minimum number of social relationships to foster a sense of belonging. Baumeister highlights the importance of satiation and substitution in driving human behaviour and social connection. Motivational satiation is a phenomenon in which an individual may desire something, but at a certain point, they may reach a point where they have had enough and no longer want or need any more of it. This concept can be applied to the formation of friendships, where an individual may desire social connections, but they may reach a point where they have enough friends and do not seek any more. However, Baumeister suggests that people still require a certain minimum amount of social connection, and to some extent, these bonds can substitute for each other. The Need to Belong Theory is a primary motivator of human behaviour, providing a framework for understanding social relationships as a basic, fundamental need for psychological health and well-being.


Brain Areas

While it appears that social isolation triggers a “neural alarm system” of threat-related regions of the brain (including the amygdala, dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), anterior insula, and periaqueductal gray (PAG)), separate regions may process social connection. Two brain areas that are part of the brain’s reward system are also involved in processing social connection and attention to loved ones: the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC), a region that also responds to safety and inhibits threat responding, and the ventral striatum (VS) and septal area (SA), part of a neural system that is activated by taking care of one’s own young.

Key Neurochemicals


In 1978, neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp observed that small doses of opiates reduced the distressed cries of puppies that were separated from their mothers. As a result, he developed the brain opioid theory of attachment, which posits that endogenous (internally produced) opioids underlie the pleasure that social animals derive from social connection, especially within close relationships. Extensive animal research supports this theory. Mice who have been genetically modified to not have mu-opioid receptors (mu-opioid receptor knockout mice), as well as sheep with their mu-receptors blocked temporarily following birth, do not recognise or bond with their mother. When separated from their mother and conspecifics, rats, chicks, puppies, guinea pigs, sheep, dogs, and primates emit distress vocalisations, however giving them morphine (i.e. activating their opioid receptors), quiets this distress. Endogenous opioids appear to be produced when animals engage in bonding behaviour, while inhibiting the release of these opioids results in signs of social disconnection. In humans, blocking mu-opioid receptors with the opioid antagonist naltrexone has been found to reduce feelings of warmth and affection in response to a film clip about a moment of bonding, and to increase feelings of social disconnection towards loved ones in daily life as well as in the lab in response to a task designed to elicit feelings of connection. Although the human research on opioids and bonding behaviour is mixed and ongoing, this suggests that opioids may underlie feelings of social connection and bonding in humans as well.


In mammals, oxytocin has been found to be released during childbirth, breastfeeding, sexual stimulation, bonding, and in some cases stress. In 1992, Sue Carter discovered that administering oxytocin to prairie voles would accelerate their monogamous pair-bonding behaviour. Oxytocin has also been found to play many roles in the bonding between mother and child. In addition to pair-bonding and motherhood, oxytocin has been found to play a role in prosocial behaviour and bonding in humans. Nicknamed the “love drug” or “cuddle chemical,” plasma levels of oxytocin increase following physical affection, and are linked to more trusting and generous social behaviour, positively biased social memory, attraction, and anxiety and hormonal responses. Further supporting a nuanced role in adult human bonding, greater circulating oxytocin over a 24-hour period was associated with greater love and perceptions of partner responsiveness and gratitude, however was also linked to perceptions of a relationship being vulnerable and in danger. Thus oxytocin may play a flexible role in relationship maintenance, supporting both the feelings that bring us closer and the distress and instinct to fight for an intimate bond in peril.


Consequences of Disconnection

A wide range of mammals, including rats, prairie voles, guinea pigs, cattle, sheep, primates, and humans, experience distress and long-term deficits when separated from their parent. In humans, long-lasting health consequences result from early experiences of disconnection. In 1958, John Bowlby observed profound distress and developmental consequences when orphans lacked warmth and love of our first and most important attachments: our parents. Loss of a parent during childhood was found to lead to altered cortisol and sympathetic nervous system reactivity even a decade later, and affect stress response and vulnerability to conflict as a young adult.

In addition to the health consequences of lacking connection in childhood, chronic loneliness at any age has been linked to a host of negative health outcomes. In a meta-analytic review conducted in 2010, results from 308,849 participants across 148 studies found that people with strong social relationships had a 50% greater chance of survival. This effect on mortality is not only on par with one of the greatest risks, smoking, but exceeds many other risk factors such as obesity and physical inactivity. Loneliness has been found to negatively affect the healthy function of nearly every system in the body: the brain, immune system, circulatory and cardiovascular systems, endocrine system, and genetic expression.

Not only is social isolation harmful to health, but it is more and more common. As many as 80% of young people under 18 years old, and 40% of adults over the age of 65 report being lonely sometimes, and 15-30% of the general population feel chronic loneliness. These numbers appear to be on the rise, and researchers have called for social connection to be public health priority.

Social Immune System

One of the main ways social connection may affect our health is through the immune system. The immune system’s primary activity, inflammation, is the body’s first line of defence against injury and infection. However, chronic inflammation has been tied to atherosclerosis, Type II diabetes, neurodegeneration, and cancer, as well as compromised regulation of inflammatory gene expression by the brain. Research over the past few decades has revealed that the immune system not only responds to physical threats, but social ones as well. It has become clear that there is a bidirectional relationship between circulating biomarkers of inflammation (e.g. the cytokine IL-6) and feelings of social connection and disconnection; not only are feelings of social isolation linked to increased inflammation, but experimentally induced inflammation alters social behaviour and induces feelings of social isolation. This has important health implications. Feelings of chronic loneliness appear to trigger chronic inflammation. However, social connection appears to inhibit inflammatory gene expression and increase antiviral responses. Performing acts of kindness for others were also found to have this effect, suggesting that helping others provides similar health benefits.

Why might our immune system respond to our perceptions of our social world? One theory is that it may have been evolutionarily adaptive for our immune system to “listen” in to our social world to anticipate the kinds of bacterial or microbial threats we face. In our evolutionary past, feeling socially isolated may have meant we were separated from our tribe, and therefore more likely to experience physical injury or wounds, requiring an inflammatory response to heal. On the other hand, feeling connected may have meant we were in relative physical safety of community, but at greater risk of socially transmitted viruses. To meet these threats with greater efficiency, the immune system responds with anticipatory changes. A genetic profile was discovered to initiate this pattern of immune response to social adversity and stress – up-regulation of inflammation, down-regulation of antiviral activity – known as Conserved Transcriptional Response to Adversity. The inverse of this pattern, associated with social connection, has been linked to positive health outcomes as well as eudaemonic well-being.

Positive Pathways

Social connection and support have been found to reduce the physiological burden of stress and contribute to health and well-being through several other pathways as well, although there remains a subject of ongoing research. One way social connection reduces our stress response is by inhibiting activity in our pain and alarm neural systems. Brain areas that respond to social warmth and connection (notably, the septal area) have inhibitory connections to the amygdala, which have the structural capacity to reduce threat responding.

Another pathway by which social connection positively affects health is through the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), the “rest and digest” system which parallels and offsets the “flight or fight” sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Flexible PNS activity, indexed by vagal tone, helps regulate the heart rate and has been linked to a healthy stress response as well as numerous positive health outcomes. Vagal tone has been found to predict both positive emotions and social connectedness, which in turn result in increased vagal tone, in an “upward spiral” of well-being. Social connection often occurs along with and causes positive emotions, which themselves benefit our health.


Social Connectedness Scale

This scale was designed to measure general feelings of social connectedness as an essential component of belongingness. Items on the Social Connectedness Scale reflect feelings of emotional distance between the self and others, and higher scores reflect more social connectedness.

UCLA Loneliness Scale

Measuring feelings of social isolation or disconnection can be helpful as an indirect measure of feelings of connectedness. This scale is designed to measure loneliness, defined as the distress that results when one feels disconnected from others.

Relationship Closeness Inventory (RCI)

This measure conceptualises closeness in a relationship as a high level of interdependence in two people’s activities, or how much influence they have over one another. It correlates moderately with self-reports of closeness, measured using the Subjective Closeness Index (SCI).

Liking and Loving Scales

These scales were developed to measure the difference between liking and loving another person – critical aspects of closeness and connection. Good friends were found to score highly on the liking scale, and only romantic partners scored highly on the loving scale. They support Zick Rubin’s conceptualisation of love as containing three main components: attachment, caring, and intimacy.

Personal Acquaintance Measure (PAM)

This measure identifies six components that can help determine the quality of a person’s interactions and feelings of social connectedness with others:

  • Duration of relationship
  • Frequency of interaction with the other person
  • Knowledge of the other person’s goals
  • Physical intimacy or closeness with the other person
  • Self-disclosure to the other person
  • Social network familiarity – how familiar is the other person with the rest of your social circle

Experimental Manipulations

Social connection is a unique, elusive, person-specific quality of our social world. Yet, can it be manipulated? This is a crucial question for how it can be studied, and whether it can be intervened on in a public health context. There are at least two approaches that researchers have taken to manipulate social connection in the lab:

Social Connection Task

This task was developed at UCLA by Tristen Inagaki and Naomi Eisenberger to elicit feelings of social connection in the laboratory. It consists of collecting positive and neutral messages from 6 loved ones of a participant, and presenting them to the participant in the laboratory. Feelings of connection and neural activity in response to this task have been found to rely on endogenous opioid activity.

Closeness-Generating Procedure

Arthur Aron at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and collaborators designed a series of questions designed to generate interpersonal closeness between two individuals who have never met. It consists of 36 questions that subject pairs ask each other over a 45-minute period. It was found to generate a degree of closeness in the lab, and can be more carefully controlled than connection within existing relationships.

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What is the Quality of Well-Being Scale?


The Quality of Well-Being Scale (QWB) is a general health quality of life questionnaire which measures overall status and well-being over the previous three days in four areas:

  • Physical activities;
  • Social activities;
  • Mobility; and
  • Symptom/problem complexes.

It consists of 71 items and takes 20 minutes to complete. There are two different versions of the QWB; the original was designed to be administered by an interviewer, and the second development (the QWB-SA) was designed to be self-administered.

The four domain scores of the questionnaire are combined into a total score that ranges from 0 to 1.0, with 1.0 representing optimum function and 0 representing death.


The QWB was originally known as the Health Status Index, then the Index of Well-Being, and then eventually became the Quality of Well-Being Scale. It has undergone several modifications since its development.

The process of administering the QWB can be described in three stages. They are the assessment of:

  • Functional status;
  • Scaling the responses; and
  • Indicating prognosis.

Assessment of functional status involves a structured interview which records the symptoms and problems experienced over the last eight days. It is used to classify the patient’s level of functioning. The interview takes about seven minutes or longer, according to the patient’s level of health. Questions in the interview covered three criteria of functioning: physical activity, social activity and mobility and confinement. The interview also records the presence of symptoms or problem complexes, which are problems that were experienced on the previous day, but were not being experienced at the present time.

The responses from the interview were then scaled. Preference weights were given for each function level by 867 raters. The preference weights indicated the social judgement of the importance of each function level. A score is generated, which is known as W.W. can then be adjusted to reflect the prognosis of a given medical condition.

International Use

Since the development of the Quality of Well-Being Scale and the consequent Quality of Well-Being Scale-Self Administered, the questionnaire has been utilised in numerous studies worldwide. Due to the general nature of the questionnaire, it has proven useful in a variety of different formats and contexts.

One way in which the QWB and the QWB-SA has been utilised is that it has been a comparator used to validate other measures, or a starting point for creating subscales of the questionnaire. An example of this is a subscale developed for use with the QWB-SA that assesses mental health, a comparator study seeking to investigate the Health and Activity Limitation Index and a study seeking to validate a new questionnaire called the Assessment of Quality of Life (AQoL)-8D.

The QWB and the QWB-SA have also been validated or assessed for suitability in various cultures and countries. The QWB has been assessed for use in Trinidad and Tobago and the QWB-SA has been validated for German patients with prostate disease, as well as Chinese patients with epilepsy.

This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quality_of_well-being_scale >; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.

What is the Physical Quality of Life Index?


The Physical Quality of Life Index (PQLI) is an attempt to measure the quality of life or well-being of a country.

The value is the average of three statistics:

  • Basic literacy rate at the age of 15 years;
  • Infant mortality; and
  • Life expectancy at age one,

all equally weighted on a 1 to 100 scale.

Refer to Happiness Economics.


It was developed for the Overseas Development Council in the mid-1970s by Pratyush and his company, as one of a number of measures created due to dissatisfaction with the use of GNP as an indicator of development. He thought that they would cover a wide range of indicators like health, sanitation, drinking water, nutrition, education etc. PQLI might be regarded as an improvement but shares the general problems of measuring quality of life in a quantitative way. It has also been criticised because there is considerable overlap between infant mortality and life expectancy.

The UN Human Development Index is a more widely used means of measuring well-being.

Steps to Calculate Physical Quality of Life:

  1. Find percentage of the population that is literate (literacy rate).
  2. Find the infant mortality rate. (out of 1000 births) INDEXED Infant Mortality Rate = (166 – infant mortality) × 0.625
  3. Find the Life Expectancy. INDEXED Life Expectancy = (Life expectancy – 42) × 2.7
  4. Physical Quality of Life = (Literacy Rate + INDEXED Infant Mortality Rate + INDEXED Life Expectancy) divided by 3.

Notes about the PQLI:

  • Increase in national income and per capita income are not the real indicators of economic development, as it has a number of limitations.
  • Increasing incomes of the country are concentrated (generally) in the hands of a few people, which is not development.
  • The development of a country should be such that the living standards of the poor rise, and the basic requirements of the citizens are fulfilled.
  • Keeping this in mind, Morris Davis Morris presented the physical quality of life index, in short known as the PQLI.
  • In this index, betterment of physical quality of life of human beings is considered economic development.
  • The level of physical quality of life determines the level of economic development.
  • If any country’s physical quality of life is higher than that of the other country, then that country is considered as more developed.
  • There are three standards to measure the physical quality, which are depicted here:
    • Extent of Education;
    • Life Expectancy; and
    • Infant Mortality Rate.

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What is Co-Rumination?


The theory of co-rumination refers to extensively discussing and revisiting problems, speculating about problems, and focusing on negative feelings with peers.

Although it is similar to self-disclosure in that it involves revealing and discussing a problem, it is more focused on the problems themselves and thus can be maladaptive. While self-disclosure is seen in this theory as a positive aspect found in close friendships, some types of self-disclosure can also be maladaptive. Co-rumination is a type of behaviour that is positively correlated with both rumination and self-disclosure and has been linked to a history of anxiety because co-ruminating may exacerbate worries about whether problems will be resolved, about negative consequences of problems, and depressive diagnoses due to the consistent negative focus on troubling topics, instead of problem-solving. However, co-rumination is also closely associated with high-quality friendships and closeness.

Developmental Psychology and Gender Differences

According to these hypothesized dynamics, girls are more likely than boys to co-ruminate with their close friends, and co-rumination increases with age in children. Female adolescents are more likely to co-ruminate than younger girls, because their social worlds become increasingly complex and stressful. This is not true for boys, however as age differences are not expected among boys because their interactions remain activity focused and the tendency to extensively discuss problems is likely to remain inconsistent with male norms.

Unfortunately, while providing this support, this tendency may also reinforce internalising problems such as anxiety or depression, especially in adolescent girls, which may account for higher depression among girls than boys. For boys, lower levels of co-rumination may help buffer them against emotional problems if they spend less time with friends dwelling on problems and concerns, though less sharing of personal thoughts and feelings can potentially interfere with creating high-quality friendships.

Co-rumination has been found to partially explain (or mediate) gender differences in anxiety and depression; females have reported engaging in more co-rumination in close friendships than males, as well as elevated co-rumination was associated with females’ higher levels of depression, but not anxiety. Co-rumination is also linked with romantic activities, which have been shown to correlate with depressive symptoms over time, because they are often the problem discussed among adolescents.

Research suggests that within adolescents, children who currently exhibit high levels of co-rumination would predict the onset of depressive diagnoses than in children who exhibit lower levels of co-rumination. In addition, this link was maintained even when children with current diagnoses were excluded, as well as statistically controlling for current depressive symptoms. This further suggests that the relation between co-rumination and a history of depressive diagnoses is not due simply to current levels of depression. Another study looking at 146 adolescents (69% female) ranging in age from 14 to 19 suggests that comparing gender differences in co-rumination across samples, it appears as if these differences intensify through early adolescence but begin to narrow shortly thereafter and remain steady through emerging adulthood.

Stress Hormones, Co-Rumination and Depression

Co-rumination, or talking excessively about each other’s problems, is common during adolescent years, especially among girls, as mentioned before. On a biological basis, a study has shown that there is an increase in the levels of stress hormones during co-rumination. This suggests that since stress hormones are released during co-rumination, they may also be released in greater amounts during other life stressors. If someone exhibits co-rumination in response to a life problem it may become more and more common for them to co-ruminate about all problems in their life.

Studies have also shown that co-rumination can predict internalising symptoms such as depression and anxiety. Since co-rumination involves repeatedly going over problems again and again this clearly may lead to depression and anxiety. Catastrophising, when one takes small possibilities and blows them out of proportion into something negative, is common in depression and anxiety and may very well be a result of constantly going over problems that may not be as bad as they seem.

Effects in Daily Life

Co-rumination, or lack thereof, leads to different behaviours in daily life. For example, studies have examined the link between co-rumination and weekly drinking habits, specifically, negative thoughts. Worry co-rumination leads to less drinking weekly, while angry co-rumination leads to a significant increase in drinking. There have also been some gender differences found as well in the same study. In general, negative co-rumination increased the likelihood that women would binge drink weekly, versus men who would drink less weekly. When dealing with specific negative emotions, women drank less when taking part in worry co-rumination (as opposed to other negative emotions), while there appeared to be a lack of significant difference in men.


Co-rumination treatment typically consists of cognitive emotion regulation therapy for rumination with the patient. This therapy focuses both on the patient themselves and their habits of continually co-ruminating with a friend or friends. Therapies may need to be altered depending on the gender of each patient. As suggested by Zlomke and Hahn (2010) men showed vast improvement in anxiety and worrying symptoms by focusing their attention on how to handle a negative event through “refocus on planning”. For women, accepting a negative event/emotion and re-framing it in a positive light was associated with decreased levels of worry. In other words, some of the cognitive emotion regulation strategies that work for men do not necessarily work for women and vice versa. Patients are encouraged to talk about their problems with friends and family members, but need to focus on a solution instead of focusing on the exact problem.

Types of Relationships

While the majority of studies have been conducted with youth same-sex friendships, others have explored co-rumination and correlates of co-rumination within other types of relationships. Research on co-rumination in the workplace has shown that discussions about workplace problems have led to mixed results, especially regarding gender differences. In high abusive supervision settings, the effects of co-rumination were shown to intensify its negative effects for women, while associating lower negative effects for men. In low abusive supervision settings, results show that there were no significant effects for women, but had negative outcomes for men. The study suggests the reason men are at risk for job dissatisfaction and depression in low stress supervision, is due to the gender differences at an early age. At a young age, girls report to co-ruminate more than boys, and as they age girls’ scores tend to rise, while boys’ scores tend to drop. The study further suggests that in adulthood, men have less experience with co-rumination than women, however some men may learn skills through interacting with women or the interaction style with other men in adulthood has changed from activity-based to conversation-based; suggesting that not only do men and women co-ruminate differently, but that the level of stress may be a factor as well. In another study, co-rumination was seen to increase the negative effects of burnout on perceived stress among co-workers, thereby indicating that, while co-rumination may be seen as a socially-supportive interaction, it could have negative psychological outcomes for co-workers.

Within the context of mother-adolescent relationships, a study that examines 5th, 8th, and 11th graders has found greater levels of co-rumination among mother and daughter than mother and son relationships. In addition, mother-adolescent co-rumination was related to positive relationship quality, but also to enmeshment which was unique to co-rumination. These enmeshment as well as internalising relations were strongest when co-ruminating was focused on the mother’s problems.

Other relationships have also been studied. For instance, one study found that graduate students engage in co-rumination. Furthermore, for those graduate students, co-rumination acted as a partial mediator, which suppressed the positive effects of social support on emotional exhaustion.

Primary Researchers

Researchers in psychology and communication have studied the conceptualization of co-rumination along with the effects of the construct. A few primary researchers have focused attention on the construct including Amanda Rose Professor of Psychology at the University of Missouri, who was one of the first scholars to write about the construct. Others who are doing work on co-rumination include Justin P. Boren, Associate Professor of Communication at Santa Clara University, Jennifer Byrd-Craven, Associate Professor of Psychology at Oklahoma State University, and Dana L. Haggard, Professor of Management at Missouri State University.

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What is Quality of Life?


Quality of life (QOL) is defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “an individual’s perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns”.

Standard indicators of the quality of life include wealth, employment, the environment, physical and mental health, education, recreation and leisure time, social belonging, religious beliefs, safety, security and freedom. QOL has a wide range of contexts, including the fields of international development, healthcare, politics and employment. Health related QOL (HRQOL) is an evaluation of QOL and its relationship with health.

Refer to Physical Quality of Life Index.

Engaged Theory

One approach, called engaged theory, outlined in the journal of Applied Research in the Quality of Life, posits four domains in assessing quality of life:

  1. Ecology;
  2. Economics;
  3. Politics; and
  4. Culture.

In the domain of culture, for example, it includes the following subdomains of quality of life:

  • Beliefs and ideas
  • Creativity and recreation
  • Enquiry and learning
  • Gender and generations
  • Identity and engagement
  • Memory and projection
  • Well-being and health

Under this conception, other frequently related concepts include freedom, human rights, and happiness. However, since happiness is subjective and difficult to measure, other measures are generally given priority. It has also been shown that happiness, as much as it can be measured, does not necessarily increase correspondingly with the comfort that results from increasing income. As a result, standard of living should not be taken to be a measure of happiness. Also sometimes considered related is the concept of human security, though the latter may be considered at a more basic level and for all people.

Quantitative Measurement

Unlike per capita GDP or standard of living, both of which can be measured in financial terms, it is harder to make objective or long-term measurements of the quality of life experienced by nations or other groups of people. Researchers have begun in recent times to distinguish two aspects of personal well-being: Emotional well-being, in which respondents are asked about the quality of their everyday emotional experiences – the frequency and intensity of their experiences of, for example, joy, stress, sadness, anger and affection – and life evaluation, in which respondents are asked to think about their life in general and evaluate it against a scale. Such and other systems and scales of measurement have been in use for some time. Research has attempted to examine the relationship between quality of life and productivity. There are many different methods of measuring quality of life in terms of health care, wealth, and materialistic goods. However, it is much more difficult to measure meaningful expression of one’s desires. One way to do so is to evaluate the scope of how individuals have fulfilled their own ideals. Quality of life can simply mean happiness, the subjective state of mind. By using that mentality, citizens of a developing country appreciate more since they are content with the basic necessities of health care, education and child protection.

According to ecological economist Robert Costanza:

While Quality of Life (QOL) has long been an explicit or implicit policy goal, adequate definition and measurement have been elusive. Diverse “objective” and “subjective” indicators across a range of disciplines and scales, and recent work on subjective well-being (SWB) surveys and the psychology of happiness have spurred renewed interest.

Human Development Index

Perhaps the most commonly used international measure of development is the Human Development Index (HDI), which combines measures of life expectancy, education, and standard of living, in an attempt to quantify the options available to individuals within a given society. The HDI is used by the United Nations (UN) Development Programme in their Human Development Report. However, since year 2010, The Human Development Report introduced an Inequality-adjusted Human Development Index (IHDI). While the original HDI remains useful, it stated that:

“the IHDI is the actual level of human development (accounting for inequality), while the original HDI can be viewed as an index of ‘potential’ human development (or the maximum level of HDI) that could be achieved if there was no inequality.”

World Happiness Report

The World Happiness Report is a landmark survey on the state of global happiness. It ranks 156 countries by their happiness levels, reflecting growing global interest in using happiness and substantial well-being as an indicator of the quality of human development. Its growing purpose has allowed governments, communities and organisations to use appropriate data to record happiness in order to enable policies to provide better lives. The reports review the state of happiness in the world today and show how the science of happiness explains personal and national variations in happiness.

Developed again by the UN and published recently along with the HDI, this report combines both objective and subjective measures to rank countries by happiness, which is deemed as the ultimate outcome of a high quality of life. It uses surveys from Gallup, real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption, and generosity to derive the final score. Happiness is already recognised as an important concept in global public policy. The World Happiness Report indicates that some regions have in the past been experiencing progressive inequality of happiness.

Other Measures

The Physical Quality of Life Index (PQLI) is a measure developed by sociologist M.D. Morris in the 1970s, based on basic literacy, infant mortality, and life expectancy. Although not as complex as other measures, and now essentially replaced by the Human Development Index, the PQLI is notable for Morris’s attempt to show a “less fatalistic pessimistic picture” by focusing on three areas where global quality of life was generally improving at the time, while ignoring gross national product and other possible indicators that were not improving.

The Happy Planet Index, introduced in 2006, is unique among quality of life measures in that, in addition to standard determinants of well-being, it uses each country’s ecological footprint as an indicator. As a result, European and North American nations do not dominate this measure. The 2012 list is instead topped by Costa Rica, Vietnam and Colombia.

In 2010, Gallup researchers trying to find the world’s happiest countries found Denmark to be at the top of the list. For the period 2014-2016, Norway surpasses Denmark to be at the top of the list. uSwitch publishes an annual quality of life index for European countries. France topped the list from 2009 to 2011.

A 2010 study by two Princeton University professors looked at 1,000 randomly selected US residents over an extended period. It concludes that their life evaluations – that is, their considered evaluations of their life against a stated scale of one to ten – rise steadily with income. On the other hand, their reported quality of emotional daily experiences (their reported experiences of joy, affection, stress, sadness, or anger) levels off after a certain income level (approximately $75,000 per year in 2010); income above $75,000 does not lead to more experiences of happiness nor to further relief of unhappiness or stress. Below this income level, respondents reported decreasing happiness and increasing sadness and stress, implying the pain of life’s misfortunes, including disease, divorce, and being alone, is exacerbated by poverty.

Gross national happiness and other subjective measures of happiness are being used by the governments of Bhutan and the United Kingdom. The World Happiness report, issued by Columbia University is a meta-analysis of happiness globally and provides an overview of countries and grassroots activists using GNH. The OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) issued a guide for the use of subjective well-being metrics in 2013. In the US, cities and communities are using a GNH metric at a grassroots level.

The Social Progress Index measures the extent to which countries provide for the social and environmental needs of their citizens. Fifty-two indicators in the areas of basic human needs, foundations of wellbeing, and opportunity show the relative performance of nations. The index uses outcome measures when there is sufficient data available or the closest possible proxies.

Day-Reconstruction Method was another way of measuring happiness, in which researchers asked their subjects to recall various things they did on the previous day and describe their mood during each activity. Being simple and approachable, this method required memory and the experiments have confirmed that the answers that people give are similar to those who repeatedly recalled each subject. The method eventually declined as it called for more effort and thoughtful responses, which often included interpretations and outcomes that do not occur to people who are asked to record every action in their daily lives.


The term quality of life is also used by politicians and economists to measure the liveability of a given city or nation. Two widely known measures of liveability are the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Where-to-be-born Index and Mercer’s Quality of Living Reports. These two measures calculate the liveability of countries and cities around the world, respectively, through a combination of subjective life-satisfaction surveys and objective determinants of quality of life such as divorce rates, safety, and infrastructure. Such measures relate more broadly to the population of a city, state, or country, not to individual quality of life. Liveability has a long history and tradition in urban design, and neighbourhoods design standards such as LEED-ND are often used in an attempt to influence liveability.


Some crimes against property (e.g., graffiti and vandalism) and some “victimless crimes” have been referred to as “quality-of-life crimes.” American sociologist James Q. Wilson encapsulated this argument as the broken windows theory, which asserts that relatively minor problems left unattended (such as litter, graffiti, or public urination by homeless individuals) send a subliminal message that disorder, in general, is being tolerated, and as a result, more serious crimes will end up being committed (the analogy being that a broken window left broken shows an image of general dilapidation).

Wilson’s theories have been used to justify the implementation of zero tolerance policies by many prominent American mayors, most notably Oscar Goodman in Las Vegas, Richard Riordan in Los Angeles, Rudolph Giuliani in New York City and Gavin Newsom in San Francisco. Such policies refuse to tolerate even minor crimes; proponents argue that this will improve the quality of life of local residents. However, critics of zero tolerance policies believe that such policies neglect investigation on a case-by-case basis and may lead to unreasonably harsh penalties for crimes.

In Healthcare

Within the field of healthcare, quality of life is often regarded in terms of how a certain ailment affects a patient on an individual level. This may be a debilitating weakness that is not life-threatening; life-threatening illness that is not terminal; terminal illness; the predictable, natural decline in the health of an elder; an unforeseen mental/physical decline of a loved one; or chronic, end-stage disease processes. Researchers at the University of Toronto’s Quality of Life Research Unit define quality of life as “The degree to which a person enjoys the important possibilities of his or her life” (UofT). Their Quality of Life Model is based on the categories “being”, “belonging”, and “becoming”; respectively who one is, how one is connected to one’s environment, and whether one achieves one’s personal goals, hopes, and aspirations.

Experience sampling studies show substantial between-person variability in within-person associations between somatic symptoms and quality of life. Hecht and Shiel measure quality of life as “the patient’s ability to enjoy normal life activities” since life quality is strongly related to wellbeing without suffering from sickness and treatment. There are multiple assessments available that measure Health-Related Quality of Life, e.g. AQoL-8D, EQ5D – Euroqol, 15D, SF-36, SF-6D, HUI.

In International Development

Quality of life has been deemed an important concept in the field of international development because it allows development to be analysed on a measure that is generally accepted as more comprehensive than standard of living. Within development theory, however, there are varying ideas concerning what constitutes desirable change for a particular society. The different ways that quality of life is defined by institutions, therefore, shape how these organisations work for its improvement as a whole.

Organisations such as the World Bank, for example, declare a goal of “working for a world free of poverty”, with poverty defined as a lack of basic human needs, such as food, water, shelter, freedom, access to education, healthcare, or employment. In other words, poverty is defined as a low quality of life. Using this definition, the World Bank works towards improving quality of life through the stated goal of lowering poverty and helping people afford a better quality of life.

Other organisations, however, may also work towards improved global quality of life using a slightly different definition and substantially different methods. Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) do not focus at all on reducing poverty on a national or international scale, but rather attempt to improve the quality of life for individuals or communities. One example would be sponsorship programmes that provide material aid for specific individuals. Although many organisations of this type may still talk about fighting poverty, the methods are significantly different.

Improving quality of life involves action not only by NGOs but also by governments. Global health has the potential to achieve greater political presence if governments were to incorporate aspects of human security into foreign policy. Stressing individuals’ basic rights to health, food, shelter, and freedom addresses prominent inter-sectoral problems negatively impacting today’s society and may lead to greater action and resources. Integration of global health concerns into foreign policy may be hampered by approaches that are shaped by the overarching roles of defence and diplomacy.

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What is the SnackWell Effect?


The SnackWell effect is a phenomenon whereby dieters will eat more low-calorie cookies, such as SnackWells, than they otherwise would for normal cookies.


Also known as moral license, it is also described as a term for the way people go overboard once they are given a free pass or the tendency of people to overconsume when eating more of low-fat food due to the belief that it is not fattening.

The term, which emerged as a reaction to dietary trends in the 1980s and 1990s, is also used for similar effects in other settings, such as energy consumption, where it is termed the “rebound effect”. For example, according to a 2008 study, people with energy-efficient washing machines wash more clothes. People with energy-efficient lights leave them on longer, and lose 5–12% of the expected energy savings of 80%.

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What is Biohappiness?


Biohappiness, or bio-happiness, is the elevation of wellbeing in humans through biological methods, including germline engineering through screening embryos with genes associated with a high level of happiness, or the use of drugs intended to raise baseline levels of happiness.

The object is to facilitate the achievement of a state of “better than well.”


Proponents of biohappiness include the transhumanist philosopher David Pearce, whose goal is to end the suffering of all sentient beings and the Canadian ethicist Mark Alan Walker. Walker has sought to defend biohappiness on the grounds that happiness ought to be of interest to a wide range of moral theorists; and that hyperthymia, a state of high baseline happiness, is associated with better outcomes in health and human achievement.

The concept of biohappiness also has its high-profile critics, including Leon Kass, who served on the President’s Council on Bioethics during the presidency of George W. Bush.

This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biohappiness >; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.

An Overview of Happiness Economics


The economics of happiness or happiness economics is the theoretical, qualitative and quantitative study of happiness and quality of life, including positive and negative affects, well-being, life satisfaction and related concepts – typically tying economics more closely than usual with other social sciences, like sociology and psychology, as well as physical health. It typically treats subjective happiness-related measures, as well as more objective quality of life indices, rather than wealth, income or profit, as something to be maximised.

Refer to Psychometrics, Well-Being Contributing Factors, and Quality of Life.

The field has grown substantially since the late 20th century, for example by the development of methods, surveys and indices to measure happiness and related concepts, as well as quality of life. Happiness findings have been described as a challenge to the theory and practice of economics. Nevertheless, furthering gross national happiness, as well as a specified Index to measure it, has been adopted explicitly in the Constitution of Bhutan in 2008, to guide its economic governance.

Subject Classifications

The subject may be categorised in various ways, depending on specificity, intersection, and cross-classification. For example, within the Journal of Economic Literature classification codes, it has been categorized under:

  • Welfare economics at JEL: D63 – Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
  • Health, education, and welfare at JEL: I31 – General Welfare; Basic needs; Living standards; Quality of life; Happiness
  • Demographic economics at JEL:J18 – Public policy.


Given its very nature, reported happiness is subjective. It is difficult to compare one person’s happiness with another’s. It can be especially difficult to compare happiness across cultures. However, many happiness economists believe they have solved this comparison problem. Cross-sections of large data samples across nations and time demonstrate consistent patterns in the determinants of happiness.

Happiness is typically measured using subjective measures – e.g. self-reported surveys – and/or objective measures. One concern has always been the accuracy and reliability of people’s responses to happiness surveys. Objective measures such as lifespan, income, and education are often used as well as or instead of subjectively reported happiness, though this assumes that they generally produce happiness, which while plausible may not necessarily be the case. The terms quality of life or well-being are often used to encompass these more objective measures.

Macro-econometric happiness has been gauged by some as Gross National Happiness, following Sicco Mansholt’s 1972 introduction of the measure, and by others as a Genuine Wealth index. Anielski in 2008 wrote a reference definition on how to measure five types of capital:

  1. Human;
  2. Social;
  3. Natural;
  4. Built; and
  5. Financial.

Happiness, well-being, or satisfaction with life, was seen as unmeasurable in classical and neo-classical economics. Van Praag was the first person who organized large surveys in order to explicitly measure welfare derived from income. He did this with the Income Evaluation Question (IEQ). This approach is called the Leyden School. It is named after the Dutch university where this approach was developed. Other researchers included Arie Kapteyn and Aldi Hagenaars.

Some scientists claim that happiness can be measured both subjectively and objectively by observing the joy centre of the brain lit up with advanced imaging, although this raises philosophical issues, for example about whether this can be treated as more reliable than reported subjective happiness.



Typically national financial measures, such as gross domestic product (GDP) and gross national product (GNP), have been used as a measure of successful policy. There is a significant association between GDP and happiness, with citizens in wealthier nations being happier than those in poorer nations. In 2002, researchers argued that this relationship extends only to an average GDP per capita of about $15,000. In the 2000s, several studies have obtained the opposite result, so this Easterlin paradox is controversial.

Individual Income

Historically, economists have said that well-being is a simple function of income. However, it has been found that once wealth reaches a subsistence level, its effectiveness as a generator of well-being is greatly diminished. Happiness economists hope to change the way governments view well-being and how to most effectively govern and allocate resources given this paradox.

In 2010, Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton found that higher earners generally reported better life satisfaction, but people’s day-to-day emotional well-being only rose with earnings until a threshold annual household pre-tax income of $75,000.

Other factors have been suggested as making people happier than money. A short term course of psychological therapy is 32 times more cost effective at increasing happiness than simply increasing income.

Scholars at the University of Virginia, University of British Columbia and Harvard University released a study in 2011 after examining numerous academic paper in response to an apparent contradiction: “When asked to take stock of their lives, people with more money report being a good deal more satisfied. But when asked how happy they are at the moment, people with more money are barely different than those with less.” Published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, the study is entitled “If Money Doesn’t Make You Happy, Then You Probably Aren’t Spending It Right” and included the following eight general recommendations:

  • Spend money on “experiences” rather than goods.
  • Donate money to others, including charities, rather than spending it solely on oneself.
  • Spend small amounts of money on many small, temporary pleasures rather than less often on larger ones.
  • Don’t spend money on “extended warranties and other forms of overpriced insurance.”
  • Adjust one’s mindset to “pay now, consume later,” instead of “consume now, pay later.”
  • Exercise circumspection about the day-to-day consequences of a purchase beforehand.
  • Rather than buying products that provide the “best deal,” make purchases based on what will facilitate well-being.
  • Seek out the opinions of other people who have prior experience of a product before purchasing it.

In their “Unhappy Cities” paper, Edward Glaeser, Joshua Gottlieb and Oren Ziv examined the self-reported subjective well-being of people living in American metropolitan areas, particularly in relation to the notion that “individuals make trade-offs among competing objectives, including but not limited to happiness.” The researchers findings revealed that people living in metropolitan areas where lower levels of happiness are reported are receiving higher real wages, and they suggest in their conclusion that “humans are quite understandably willing to sacrifice both happiness and life satisfaction if the price is right.”

Social Security

Ruut Veenhoven claimed that social security payments do not seem to add to happiness. This may be due to the fact that non-self-earned income (e.g., from a lottery) does not add to happiness in general either. Happiness may be the mind’s reward for a useful action. However, Johan Norberg of CIS, a free enterprise economy think tank, presents a hypothesis that as people who think that they themselves control their lives are happier, paternalist institutions may decrease happiness.

An alternative perspective focuses on the role of the welfare state as an institution that improves quality of life not only by increasing the extent to which basic human needs are met, but also by promoting greater control of one’s life by limiting the degree to which individuals find themselves at the mercy of impersonal market forces that are indifferent to the fate of individuals. This is the argument suggested by the US political scientist Benjamin Radcliff, who has presented a series of papers in peer-reviewed scholarly journals demonstrating that a more generous welfare state contributes to higher levels of life satisfaction, and does so to rich and poor alike.


Generally, the well-being of those who are employed is higher than those who are unemployed. Employment itself may not increase subjective well-being, but facilitates activities that do (such as supporting a family, philanthropy, and education). While work does increase well-being through providing income, income level is not as indicative of subjective well-being as other benefits related to employment. Feelings of autonomy and mastery, found in higher levels in the employed than unemployed, are stronger predictors of subjective well-being than wealth.

When personal preference and the amount of time spent working do not align, both men and women experience a decrease in subjective well-being. The negative effect of working more or working less than preferred has been found across multiple studies, most finding that working more than preferred (over-employed) is more detrimental, but some found that working less (under-employed) is more detrimental. Most individuals’ levels of subjective well-being returned to “normal” (level previous to time mismatch) within one year. Levels remained lower only when individuals worked more hours than preferred for a period of two years or more, which may indicate that it is more detrimental to be over-employed than under-employed in the long-term.

Employment status effects are not confined to the individual. Being unemployed can have detrimental effects on a spouse’s subjective well-being, compared to being employed or not working (and not looking for work). Partner life satisfaction is inversely related to the number of hours their partner is underemployed. When both partners are underemployed, the life-satisfaction of men is more greatly diminished than women. However, just being in a relationship reduces the impact unemployment has on the subjective well-being of an individual. On a broad scale, high rates of unemployment negatively affect the subjective well-being of the employed.

Becoming self-employed can increase subjective well-being, given the right conditions. Those who leave work to become self-employed report greater life satisfaction than those who work for others or become self-employed after unemployment; this effect increases over time. Those who are self-employed and have employees of their own report higher life-satisfaction than those who are self-employed without employees, and women who are self-employed without employees report a higher life satisfaction than men in the same condition.

The effects of retirement on subjective well-being vary depending on personal and cultural factors. Subjective well-being can remain stable for those who retire from work voluntarily, but declines for those who are involuntarily retired. In countries with an average social norm to work, the well-being of men increases after retirement, and the well-being of retired women is at the same level as women who are homemakers or work outside the home. In countries with a strong social norm to work, retirement negatively impacts the well-being of men and women.

Relationships and Children

In the 1970s, women typically reported higher subjective well-being than did men. By 2009, declines in reported female happiness had eroded a gender gap.

In rich societies, where a rise in income does not equate to an increase in levels of subjective well-being, personal relationships are the determining factors of happiness.

Glaeser, Gottlieb and Ziv suggest in their conclusion that the happiness trade-offs that individuals seem willing to make aligns with the tendency of parents to report less happiness, as they sacrifice their personal well-being for the “price” of having children.

Freedom and Control

There is a significant correlation between feeling in control of one’s own life and happiness levels.

A study conducted at the University of Zurich suggested that democracy and federalism bring well-being to individuals. It concluded that the more direct political participation possibilities available to citizens raises their subjective well-being. Two reasons were given for this finding. First, a more active role for citizens enables better monitoring of professional politicians by citizens, which leads to greater satisfaction with government output. Second, the ability for citizens to get involved in and have control over the political process, independently increases well-being.

American psychologist Barry Schwartz argues in his book The Paradox of Choice that too many consumer and lifestyle choices can produce anxiety and unhappiness due to analysis paralysis and raised expectations of satisfaction.

Religious Diversity

National cross-sectional data suggest an inverse relationship between religious diversity and happiness, possibly by facilitating more bonding (and less bridging) social capital.

Happiness and Leisure

Much of the research regarding happiness and leisure relies on subjective well-being (SWB) as an appropriate measure of happiness. Research has demonstrated a wide variety of contributing and resulting factors in the relationship between leisure and happiness. These include psychological mechanisms, and the types and characteristics of leisure activities that result in the greatest levels of subjective happiness. Specifically, leisure may trigger five core psychological mechanisms including detachment-recovery from work, autonomy in leisure, mastery of leisure activities, meaning-making in leisure activities, and social affiliation in leisure (DRAMMA). Leisure activities that are physical, relational, and performed outdoors are correlated with greater feelings of satisfaction with free time. Research across 33 different countries shows that individuals who feel they strengthen social relationships and work on personal development during leisure time are happier than others. Furthermore, shopping, reading books, attending cultural events, getting together with relatives, listening to music and attending sporting events is associated with higher levels of happiness. Spending time on the internet or watching TV is not associated with higher levels of happiness as compared to these other activities.

Research has shown that culture influences how we measure happiness and leisure. While SWB is a commonly used measure of happiness in North America and Europe, this may not be the case internationally. Quality of life (QOL) may be a better measure of happiness and leisure in Asian countries, especially Korea. Countries such as China and Japan may require a different measurement of happiness, as societal differences may influence the concept of happiness (i.e. economic variables, cultural practices, and social networks) beyond what QOL is able to measure. There seem to be some differences in leisure preference cross-culturally. Within the Croatian culture, family related leisure activities may enhance SWB across a large spectrum of ages ranging from adolescent to older adults, in both women and men. Active socializing and visiting cultural events are also associated with high levels of SWB across varying age and gender. Italians seem to prefer social conceptions of leisure as opposed to individualistic conceptions. Although different groups of individuals may prefer varying types and amount of leisure activity, this variability is likely due to the differing motivations and goals that an individual intends to fulfil with their leisure time.

Research suggests that specific leisure interventions enhance feelings of SWB. This is both a top-down and bottom-up effect, in that leisure satisfaction causally affects SWB, and SWB causally affects leisure satisfaction. This bi-directional effect is stronger in retired individuals than in working individuals. Furthermore, it appears that satisfaction with our leisure at least partially explains the relationship between our engagement in leisure and our SWB. Broadly speaking, researchers classify leisure into active (e.g. volunteering, socialising, sports and fitness) and passive leisure (e.g. watching television and listening to the radio). Among older adults, passive leisure activities and personal leisure activities (e.g. sleeping, eating, and bathing) correlate with higher levels of SWB and feelings of relaxation than active leisure activities. Thus, although significant evidence has demonstrated that active leisure is associated with higher levels of SWB, or happiness, this may not be the case with older populations.

Both regular and irregular involvement in sports leisure can result in heightened SWB. Serious, or systematic involvement in certain leisure activities, such as taekwondo, correlates with personal growth and a sense of happiness. Additionally, more irregular (e.g. seasonal) sports activities, such as skiing, are also correlated with high SWB. Furthermore, the relationship between pleasure and skiing is thought to be caused in part by a sense of flow and involvement with the activity. Leisure activities, such as meeting with friends, participating in sports, and going on vacation trips, positively correlate with life satisfaction. It may also be true that going on a vacation makes our lives seem better, but does not necessarily make us happier in the long term. Research regarding vacationing or taking a holiday trip is mixed. Although the reported effects are mostly small, some evidence points to higher levels of SWB, or happiness, after taking a holiday.

Economic Security

Poverty alleviation are associated with happier populations. According to the latest systematic review of the economic literature on life satisfaction: Volatile or high inflation is bad for a population’s well-being, particularly those with a right-wing political orientation. That suggests the impact of disruptions to economic security are in part mediated or modified by beliefs about economic security.

Political Stability

The Voxeu analysis of the economic determinants of happiness found that life satisfaction explains the largest share of an existing government’s vote share, followed by economic growth, which itself explains six times as much as employment and twice as much as inflation.

Economic Freedom

Individualistic societies have happier populations. Institutes of economic freedom are associated with increases wealth inequality but does not necessarily contribute to decreases in aggregate well-being or subjective well-being at the population level. In fact, income inequality enhances global well-being. There is some debate over whether living in poor neighbours make one happier. And, living among rich neighbours can dull the happiness that comes from wealth. This is purported to work by way of an upward or downward comparison effect (Keeping up with the Joneses). The balance of evidence[citation needed] is trending in favour of the hypothesis that living in poor neighbourhoods makes one less happy, and living in rich neighbourhoods actually makes one happier, in the United States. While social status matters, a balance of factors like amenities, safe areas, well maintained housing, turn the tide in favour of the argument that richer neighbours are happier neighbours.


“The right to participate in the political process, measured by the extent of direct democratic rights across regions, is strongly correlated with subjective well-being (Frey and Stutzer, 2002) … a potential mechanism that explains this relationship is the perception of procedural fairness and social mobility.” Institutions and well-being, democracy and federalism are associated with a happier population. Correspondingly, political engagement and activism have associated health benefits. On the other hand, some non-democratic countries such as China and Saudi Arabia top the Ipsos list of countries where the citizenry is most happy with their government’s direction. That suggests that voting preferences may not translate well into overall satisfaction with the government’s direction. In any case, both of these factors revealed preference and domain specific satisfaction rather than overall subjective well being.

Economic Development

Historically, economists thought economic growth was unrelated to population level well-being, a phenomenon labelled the Easterlin paradox. More robust research has identified that there is a link between economic development and the wellbeing of the population. A 2017 meta-analysis suggests that the impact of infrastructure expenditure on economic growth varies considerably. So, one cannot assume an infrastructure project will yield welfare benefits. The paper does not investigate or elaborate on any modifiable variables that might predict the value of a project. However, government spending on roads and primary industries is the best value target for transport spending, according to a 2013 meta-analysis.7% (+/−3%) per annum discount rates are typically applied as the discount rate on public infrastructure projects in Australia. Smaller real discount rates are used internationally to calculate the social return on investment by governments.

Alternative Approach: Economic Consequences of Happiness

While the mainstream happiness economics has focused on identifying the determinants of happiness, an alternative approach in the discipline examines instead what are the economic consequences of happiness. Happiness may act as a determinant of economic outcomes: it increases productivity, predicts one’s future income and affects labour market performance. There is a growing number of studies justifying the so-called “happy-productive worker” thesis. The positive and causal impact of happiness on an individual’s productivity has been established in experimental studies.

Timeline of Developments

The idea that happiness is important to a society is not new. Many other prominent intellectuals, philosophers and political leaders throughout history, including Aristotle, Confucius, and Plato, incorporated happiness into their work.

“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” (Aristotle,350 B.C.).

Thomas Jefferson put the “pursuit of happiness” on the same level as life and liberty in the United States’ Declaration of Independence. Jeremy Bentham believed that public policy should attempt to maximize happiness, and he even attempted to estimate a “hedonic calculus”. In the US, there is no explicit policy that requires the rulers to develop the physical and mental well-being of the citizens or hold the government agencies accountable for their performance against specific measures or metrics of well-being. Until 1972 there was no formal government policy, anywhere in the world, that placed happiness and well-being as a main criterion for public policy decision making.

The following is a chronological list of happiness economics and well-being indices:

  • 1789 – France adopts the Declaration: It emphasizes happiness as a fundamental right and universal goal.
  • 1972 – Bhutan’s former king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, introduced the Gross National Happiness (GNH) philosophy and its four development pillars at an international conference.
  • 2005 – Med Jones of the International Institute of Management introduced the first GNH Index and Global GNH Index Survey. The GNH Index, also known as Gross National Well-being (GNW) Index framework served as the first integrated objective (economic) and subjective (happiness) socioeconomic development framework. Prior to the GNH Index, there were few development indices that improved upon the gross domestic product (GDP), but did not measure happiness. For example, the Genuine Progress Indicator was focused on the environmental cost of economic development, then later (in 2006) it was updated to include similar measures to the GNH Index. Another development index is the Human Development Index (HDI) that originally focused on literacy and education but also did not measure happiness. The HDI now measures three basic dimensions of human development, health (as measured by life expectancy at birth), overall knowledge level (as measured by the literacy rate), and standard of living (as measured by GDP per capita for a given year). Among the criticisms of the HDI is the complaint that it is a mixture of stock measures (life expectancy at birth and literacy rate) and a flow measure (GDP per capita for a given year). To overcome this criticism, Hou, Walsh, and Zhang (2015) proposed a new index called HDIF (Human Development Index Flow), in which they replaced life expectancy at birth by the under-five mortality rate (for a given year), and they also replaced the literacy rate by the gross primary school enrolment ratio for a given year). They calculated both the HDI and the HDIF for many countries and found that “the HDIF and the HDI tend to converge for wealthy countries and diverge for poor countries, especially those with low HDI rankings”. The development performance of poor countries improved using the HDIF while the performance of the wealthy countries declined.
  • 2006 – The Genuine Progress Indicator was updated from a green measurement system to a broader concept that included quantitative measurement of well-being and happiness. The new measure is motivated by the philosophy of the GNH and the same notion of that subjective measures like well-being are more relevant and important than more objective measures like consumption. It is not measured directly, but only by means of the factors which are believed to lead to it.
  • 2007 – Thailand releases Green and Happiness Index (GHI).
  • 2008 – French President Nicolas Sarkozy launched a Happiness Initiative similar to GNH, calling for the inclusion of happiness and well-being among the criteria for national governance policies. He commissioned three prominent economists, Joseph Stiglitz (US), Amartya Sen (India), Jean-Paul Fitoussi (France), to publish a report calling for a global “statistical system which goes beyond commercial activity to measure personal well-being.” Later it was described as gross domestic happiness (GDH). The GDH Index is similar to the GNH Index of 2005.
  • 2008 – The goal of furthering gross national happiness, as well as a specified GNH Index to measure this, are instituted explicitly in the Constitution of Bhutan, to guide its government, on 18 July 2008. The included index is used to measure the collective happiness and well-being of the population.
  • 2009 – In the United States, the Gallup poll system launched the happiness survey collecting data on national scale. The Gallup Well-Being Index was modelled after the GNH Index framework of 2005. The Well-Being Index score is an average of six sub-indexes which measure life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviours, and access to basic necessities. In October 2009, the US scored 66.1/100.
  • 2010 – The concept was taken seriously, as the Centre for Bhutan Studies, under the leadership of Karma Ura, developed a sophisticated survey instrument to measure the population’s general level of well-being. Two Canadians, Michael and Martha Pennock played a major role in developing the Bhutanese survey, which took a six- to seven-hour interview to complete. They developed a shorter international version of the survey which has been used in their home region of Victoria, BC, as well as in Brazil. The Pennocks also collaborated with Ura in the production of a policy lens which is used by the Bhutanese GNH Commission for anticipating the impact of policy initiatives upon the levels of gross national happiness in Bhutan.
  • 2010 – The Center for Bhutan Studies further defined the original four pillars with greater specificity into eight general contributors to happiness, which make up the Bhutan GNH Index: 1) physical, mental and spiritual health; 2) time-balance; 3) social and community vitality; 4) cultural vitality; 5) education; 6) living standards; 7) good governance; and 8) ecological vitality.
  • 2010 – The Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative OPHI at the University of Oxford in UK, launched the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) for the United Nations Development Programme, (UNDP). Similar to the GNH Index of 2005, OPHI promotes collection and analysis of data on five dimensions including Quality of work, Empowerment, Physical safety, Ability to go about without shame, Psychological wellbeing.
  • 2011 – UN General Assembly Resolution 65/309, titled “Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development”
  • 2011 – The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) launched “Better Life Index” (BLI).
  • 2011 – The United Nations released its first edition of the now annual World Happiness Report.
  • 2011 – Canadian Index of Wellbeing Network (CIW Network) released The Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW).
  • 2011 – The Israeli newspaper Haaretz published an article suggesting that western GDP economics is an incomplete development model and called for the adoption of Bhutan’s GNH philosophy and Jones’ GNH Index in Israel.
  • 2011 – Chuluun Togtokh criticized the HDI in an article published in Nature, calling for a revised HDI, writing that “The revised index should include each nation’s per capita carbon emissions, and so become a Human Sustainable Development Index (HSDI).” Bravo (2014) provided details of how the HSDI was computed and proposed an amended HSDI by including the proportion of forested area in each country. He argued that this proposed indicator “represents an important measure of the capacity of the natural system to provide fundamental ecological services.”
  • 2012 – In a report prepared for the US Congressman Hansen Clarke, R, researchers Ben Beachy and Juston Zorn, at John F. Kennedy School of Government in Harvard University, recommended that “the Congress should prescribe the broad parameters of new, carefully designed supplemental national indicators; it should launch a bipartisan commission of experts to address unresolved methodological issues, and include alternative indicators.” They proposed that the government can use the survey results to see which well-being dimensions are least satisfied and which districts and demographic groups are most deficient, so as to allocate resources accordingly. The report list the Gross National Happiness Index and its seven measurement area as one of the main frameworks to consider.
  • 2012 – Professor Peter T. Coleman, a director of the International Centre for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution at Columbia University, suggested that Jones’ GNH Index initiative could inform the Global Peace Index Initiative GPI.
  • 2012 – South Korea launched Happiness Index citing the GNH Index framework.
  • 2012 – The government of Goa, India, published a strategy for socioeconomic development citing the GNH Index as a model for measuring happiness.
  • 2012 – The city of Seattle in Washington, launched its own happiness index initiative, emphasizing measures similar to the GNH Index.
  • 2013 – The Social Progress Index SPI was launched by Michael Porter
  • 2013 – The president of Singapore, Tony Tan, proposed that in addition to building up substantial financial reserves, Singapore needed to focus on building up its “social reserves”, a concept that appears to have parallels to GNH.
  • 2013 – Economist Karol Jan Borowiecki motivates that well-being indices can be obtained from the way people communicate, as is established in psychology, and compiles the first well-being indices covering the life-time of a person.
  • 2013 – A joint commission led by the Conseil économique et social, the Conseil supérieur pour un développement durable and the Observatoire de la Compétitivité introduces a set of indicators measuring the quality of life in Luxembourg. The conclusions of the commission are summarised in a document titled “Projet PIBien-être”, which identifies 64 indicators belonging to 11 different domains to assess quality of life in Luxembourg.
  • 2014 – The government of Dubai launched its localized Happiness Index to measure the public’s contentment and satisfaction with different government services.
  • 2014 – The United Kingdom launched its own well-being and happiness statistics.
  • 2015 – Within the “Projet PIBien-être” launched in 2013, STATEC (National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg) presents a preliminary analysis of the “Luxembourgish Index of Well-being” (LIW), a first proposal of synthetic indicator measuring the quality of life in Luxembourg. The presentation entitled “Preliminary Assessment of Quality of Life in Luxembourg” was delivered by Marcin Piekałkiewicz on 16 December 2015.
  • 2017 – The Minderoo Foundation launched the Global Slavery Index, providing a map of the estimated prevalence of modern slavery. The information allows an objective comparison and assessment of both the problem and adequacy of the response in 167 countries.

Related Studies

The Satisfaction with Life Index is an attempt to show the average self-reported happiness in different nations. This is an example of a recent trend to use direct measures of happiness, such as surveys asking people how happy they are, as an alternative to traditional measures of policy success such as GDP or GNP. Some studies suggest that happiness can be measured effectively. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), published in November 2008 a major study on happiness economics in Latin America and the Caribbean.

There are also several examples of measures that include self-reported happiness as one variable. Happy Life Years, a concept brought by Dutch sociologist Ruut Veenhoven, combines self-reported happiness with life expectancy. The Happy Planet Index combines it with life expectancy and ecological footprint.

Gross National Happiness (GNH) is a concept introduced by the King of Bhutan in 1972 as an alternative to GDP. Several countries have already developed or are in the process of developing such an index. Bhutan’s index has led that country to limit the amount of deforestation it will allow and to require that all tourists to its nation must spend US$200. Allegedly, low-budget tourism and deforestation lead to unhappiness.

After the military coup of 2006, Thailand also instituted an index. The stated promise of the new Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont is to make the Thai people not only richer but happier as well. Much like GDP results, Thailand releases monthly GNH data. The Thai GNH index is based on a 1–10 scale with 10 being the happiest. As of 13 May 2007, the Thai GNH measured 5.1 points. The index uses poll data from the population surveying various satisfaction factors such as security, public utilities, good governance, trade, social justice, allocation of resources, education and community problems.

Australia, China, France and the United Kingdom are also coming up with indexes to measure national happiness. The UK began to measure national wellbeing in 2012. North Korea also announced an international Happiness Index in 2011 through Korean Central Television. North Korea itself came in second, behind #1 China. Canada released the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) in 2011 to track changes in wellbeing. The CIW has adopted the following working definition of wellbeing: The presence of the highest possible quality of life in its full breadth of expression focused on but not necessarily exclusive to good living standards, robust health, a sustainable environment, vital communities, an educated populace, balanced time use, high levels of democratic participation, and access to and participation in leisure and culture.

Ecuador’s and Bolivia’s new constitutions state the indigenous concept of “good life” (“buen vivir” in Spanish, “sumak kawsay” in Quichua, and “suma qamaña” in Aymara) as the goal of sustainable development.

Neoclassical Economics

Neoclassical, as well as classical economics, are not subsumed under the term happiness economics although the original goal was to increase the happiness of the people. Classical and neoclassical economics are stages in the development of welfare economics and are characterised by mathematical modelling. Happiness economics represents a radical break with this tradition. The measurement of subjective happiness respectively life satisfaction by means of survey research across nations and time (in addition to objective measures like lifespan, wealth, security etc.) marks the beginning of happiness economics.


Some have suggested that establishing happiness as a metric is only meant to serve political goals. Recently there has been concern that happiness research could be used to advance authoritarian aims. As a result, some participants at a happiness conference in Rome have suggested that happiness research should not be used as a matter of public policy but rather used to inform individuals.

Even on the individual level, there is discussion on how much effect external forces can have on happiness. Less than 3% of an individual’s level of happiness comes from external sources such as employment, education level, marital status, and socioeconomic status. To go along with this, four of the Big Five Personality Traits are substantially associated with life satisfaction, openness to experience is not associated. Having high levels of internal locus of control leads to higher reported levels of happiness.

Even when happiness can be affected by external sources, it has high hedonic adaptation, some specific events such as an increase in income, disability, unemployment, and loss (bereavement) only have short-term (about a year) effects on a person’s overall happiness and after a while happiness may return to levels similar to unaffected peers.

What has the most influence over happiness are internal factors such as genetics, personality traits, and internal locus of control. It is theorised that 50% of the variation in happiness levels is from genetic sources and is known as the genetic set point. The genetic set point is assumed to be stable over time, fixed, and immune to influence or control. This goes along with findings that well-being surveys have a naturally positive baseline.

With such strong internal forces on happiness, it is hard to have an effect on a person’s happiness externally. This in turn lends itself back to the idea that establishing a happiness metric is only for political gain and has little other use. To support this even further it is believed that a country aggregate level of SWB can account for more variance in government vote share than standard macroeconomic variables, such as income and employment.

Technical Issues

According to Bond and Lang (2018), the results are skewed due to the fact that the respondents have to “round” their true happiness to the scale of, e.g., 3 or 7 alternatives (e.g. very happy, pretty happy, not too happy). This “rounding error” may cause a less happy group seem happier, in the average. This would not be the case if the happiness of both groups would be normally distributed with the same variance, but that is usually not the case, based on their results. For some not-implausible log-normal assumptions on the scale, typical results can be reversed to the opposite results.

They also show that the “reporting function” seems to be different for different groups and even for the same individual at different times. For example, when a person becomes disabled, they soon start to lower their threshold for a given answer (e.g. “pretty happy”). That is, they give a higher answer than they would have given at the same happiness state before becoming disabled.

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An Overview of Opponent-Process Theory


Opponent-process theory is a psychological and neurological model that accounts for a wide range of behaviours, including colour vision. This model was first proposed in 1878 by Ewald Hering, a German physiologist, and later expanded by Richard Solomon, a 20th-century psychologist.

Opponent-process theory of drug addiction.

Visual Perception

The opponent-process theory was first developed by Ewald Hering. He noted that there are colour combinations that we never see, such as reddish-green or bluish-yellow. Opponent-process theory suggests that colour perception is controlled by the activity of three opponent systems. In the theory, he postulated about three independent receptor types which all have opposing pairs: white and black, blue and yellow, and red and green.

These three pairs produce combinations of colours for us through the opponent process. Furthermore, according to this theory, for each of these three pairs, three types of chemicals in the retina exist, in which two types of chemical reactions can occur. These reactions would yield one member of the pair in their building up phase, or anabolic process, whereas they would yield the other member while in a destructive phase, or a catabolic process.

The colours in each pair oppose each other. Red-green receptors cannot send messages about both colours at the same time. This theory also explains negative afterimages; once a stimulus of a certain colour is presented, the opponent colour is perceived after the stimulus is removed because the anabolic and catabolic processes are reversed. For example, red creates a positive (or excitatory) response while green creates a negative (or inhibitory) response. These responses are controlled by opponent neurons, which are neurons that have an excitatory response to some wavelengths and an inhibitory response to wavelengths in the opponent part of the spectrum.

According to this theory, colour blindness is due to the lack of a particular chemical in the eye. The positive after-image occurs after we stare at a brightly illuminated image on a regularly lighted surface and the image varies with increases and decreases in the light intensity of the background.

The veracity of this theory, however, has recently been challenged. The main evidence for this theory derived from recordings of retinal and thalamic (LGN) cells, which were excited by one colour and suppressed by another. Based on these oppositions, the cells were called “Blue-yellow”, “Green-red” and “black-white” opponent cells. In a recent review of the literature, Pridmore notes that the definition of the colour ‘green’ has been very subjective and inconsistent and that most recordings of retinal and thalamic (LGN) neurons were of Red-cyan colour, and some of Green-magenta colour. As these colours are complementary and not opponent, he proposed naming these neurons as complementary cells.


A-process refers to the one of the emotional internal processes or responses of the opponent-process theory. The A-process is largely responsible for the initial, usually fast and immediate, emotional reaction to a stimulus. The theory considers it a primary process which may be affectively positive or negative, but never neutral. The theory also proposes that this process automatically causes a B-process, which is subjectively and physiologically opposite in direction to the A-process.

There is a peak response to any emotional stimulus which usually occurs rapidly, usually out of shock, but lasts only as long as the stimulus is present. In a physiological sense, the a-process is where the pupils dilate, the heart rate increases, and the adrenaline rushes.

A- and B-Processes

The A- and B-processes are consequently and temporarily linked but were believed to depend on different neurobiological mechanisms. B-Process, the other part of opponent-process theory, occurs after the initial shock, or emotion and is evoked after a short delay. A-process and B-process overlap in somewhat of an intermediate area. While A-process is still in effect, B-process starts to rise, ultimately levelling out a-process’ initial spike in emotion. A-process ends once the stimulus is terminated, leaves, or ends. Physiologically, this is where breathing returns to normal, pulse slows back to its normal rate, and heart rate starts to drop. The B-process can be thought of as the “after-reaction”. Once B-process has ended, the body returns to homeostasis and emotions return to baseline.

Research on the brain mechanisms of drug addiction showed how the A-process is equated with the pleasure derived from drugs and once it weakens, it is followed by the strengthening of the B-process, which are the withdrawal symptoms.

Motivation and Emotion

Richard Solomon developed a motivational theory based on opponent processes. Basically he states that every process that has an affective balance (i.e. is pleasant or unpleasant) is followed by a secondary, “opponent process”. This opponent process sets in after the primary process is quieted. With repeated exposure, the primary process becomes weaker while the opponent process is strengthened.

The most important contribution is Solomon’s findings on work motivation and addictive behaviour. According to opponent-process theory, drug addiction is the result of an emotional pairing of pleasure and the emotional symptoms associated with withdrawal. At the beginning of drug or any substance use, there are high levels of pleasure and low levels of withdrawal. Over time, however, as the levels of pleasure from using the drug decrease, the levels of withdrawal symptoms increase.

The theory was supported in a study Solomon conducted along with J.D. Corbit in 1974, in which the researchers analysed the emotions of skydivers. It was found that beginners have greater levels of fear than more experienced skydivers, but less pleasure upon landing. However, as the skydivers kept on jumping, there was an increase in pleasure and a decrease in fear. A similar experiment was done with dogs. Dogs were put into a so-called Pavlov harness and were shocked with electricity for 10 seconds. This shock was the stimulus of the experiment. In the initial stage (consisting of the first few stimuli) the dogs experienced terror and panic. Then, when they stopped the stimuli, the dogs became stealthy and cautious. The experiment continued, and after many stimuli, the dogs went from unhappy to joyful and happy after the shocks stopped altogether. In the opponent-process model, this is the result of a shift over time from fear to pleasure in the fear-pleasure emotion pair.

Another example of opponent processes is the use of nicotine. In the terms of Hedonism, one process (the initial process) is a hedonic reaction that is prompted by the use of nicotine. The user gains positive feelings through the inhalation of nicotine. This is then counteracted, or opposed, by the second, drug-opposite effect (the opponent process). The drug-opposite effect holds hedonic properties that are negative, which would be the decrease in positive feelings gained by the inhalation of nicotine. The counteraction takes place after the initial hedonic response as a means to restore homeostasis. In short, the use of nicotine jumpstarts an initial, pleasurable response. It is then counteracted by the opponent process that brings one back to their original level of homeostasis. The negative feelings begin to take hold again, which in this case would be the craving of nicotine. Repeated use of the substance will continue to strengthen the opponent process, but the feelings gained through the initial process will remain constant. This dynamic explains tolerance, which is the increase in the amount of drug/substance that is needed to overcome the opponent process that is increasing in strength. This also explains withdrawal syndrome, which occurs by the negative, drug-opposite effects remaining after the initial, pleasurable process dies out.

Leo Hurvich and Dorothea Jameson proposed a neurological model of a general theory of neurological opponent processing in 1974. This led to Ronald C. Blue & Wanda E. Blue’s general model of Correlational Holographic Opponent Processing. This model proposes that habituation is a neurological holographic wavelet interference of opponent processes that explains learning, vision, hearing, taste, balance, smell, motivation, and emotions.

Beyond addictive behaviour, opponent-process theory can in principle explain why processes (i.e. situations or subjective states) that are aversive and unpleasant can still be rewarding. For instance, after being exposed to a stressful situation (cold pressor test), human participants showed greater physiological signs of well-being than those in the control condition. Self-report measures and subjective ratings show that relief from physical pain can induce pleasant feelings, and a reduction of negative affect. Accordingly, opponent-process theory can also help to explain psychopathological behaviour such as non-suicidal self-injury.

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What is Negativity Bias?


The negativity bias, also known as the negativity effect, is a cognitive bias that, even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful/traumatic events) have a greater effect on one’s psychological state and processes than neutral or positive things.

In other words, something very positive will generally have less of an impact on a person’s behaviour and cognition than something equally emotional but negative. The negativity bias has been investigated within many different domains, including the formation of impressions and general evaluations; attention, learning, and memory; and decision-making and risk considerations.

Refer to Positivity Offset.


Paul Rozin and Edward Royzman proposed four elements of the negativity bias in order to explain its manifestation: negative potency, steeper negative gradients, negativity dominance, and negative differentiation.

Negative potency refers to the notion that, while possibly of equal magnitude or emotionality, negative and positive items/events/etc. are not equally salient. Rozin and Royzman note that this characteristic of the negativity bias is only empirically demonstrable in situations with inherent measurability, such as comparing how positively or negatively a change in temperature is interpreted.

With respect to positive and negative gradients, it appears to be the case that negative events are thought to be perceived as increasingly more negative than positive events are increasingly positive the closer one gets (spatially or temporally) to the affective event itself. In other words, there is a steeper negative gradient than positive gradient. For example, the negative experience of an impending dental surgery is perceived as increasingly more negative the closer one gets to the date of surgery than the positive experience of an impending party is perceived as increasingly more positive the closer one gets to the date of celebration (assuming for the sake of this example that these events are equally positive and negative). Rozin and Royzman argue that this characteristic is distinct from that of negative potency because there appears to be evidence of steeper negative slopes relative to positive slopes even when potency itself is low.

Negativity dominance describes the tendency for the combination of positive and negative items/events/etc. to skew towards an overall more negative interpretation than would be suggested by the summation of the individual positive and negative components. Phrasing in more Gestalt-friendly terms, the whole is more negative than the sum of its parts.

Negative differentiation is consistent with evidence suggesting that the conceptualization of negativity is more elaborate and complex than that of positivity. For instance, research indicates that negative vocabulary is more richly descriptive of the affective experience than that of positive vocabulary. Furthermore, there appear to be more terms employed to indicate negative emotions than positive emotions. The notion of negative differentiation is consistent with the mobilisation-minimisation hypothesis, which posits that negative events, as a consequence of this complexity, require a greater mobilisation of cognitive resources to deal with the affective experience and a greater effort to minimise the consequences.


Social Judgements and Impression Formation

Most of the early evidence suggesting a negativity bias stems from research on social judgments and impression formation, in which it became clear that negative information was typically more heavily weighted when participants were tasked with forming comprehensive evaluations and impressions of other target individuals. Generally speaking, when people are presented with a range of trait information about a target individual, the traits are neither “averaged” nor “summed” to reach a final impression. When these traits differ in terms of their positivity and negativity, negative traits disproportionately impact the final impression. This is specifically in line with the notion of negativity dominance (refer to “Explanations” above).

As an example, a famous study by Leon Festinger and colleagues investigated critical factors in predicting friendship formation; the researchers concluded that whether or not people became friends was most strongly predicted by their proximity to one another. Ebbesen, Kjos, and Konecni, however, demonstrated that proximity itself does not predict friendship formation; rather, proximity serves to amplify the information that is relevant to the decision of either forming or not forming a friendship. Negative information is just as amplified as positive information by proximity. As negative information tends to outweigh positive information, proximity may predict a failure to form friendships even more so than successful friendship formation.

One explanation that has been put forth as to why such a negativity bias is demonstrated in social judgements is that people may generally consider negative information to be more diagnostic of an individual’s character than positive information, that it is more useful than positive information in forming an overall impression. This is supported by indications of higher confidence in the accuracy of one’s formed impression when it was formed more on the basis of negative traits than positive traits. People consider negative information to be more important to impression formation and, when it is available to them, they are subsequently more confident.

An oft-cited paradox, a dishonest person can sometimes act honestly while still being considered to be predominantly dishonest; on the other hand, an honest person who sometimes does dishonest things will likely be reclassified as a dishonest person. It is expected that a dishonest person will occasionally be honest, but this honesty will not counteract the prior demonstrations of dishonesty. Honesty is considered more easily tarnished by acts of dishonesty. Honesty itself would then be not diagnostic of an honest nature, only the absence of dishonesty.

The presumption that negative information has greater diagnostic accuracy is also evident in voting patterns. Voting behaviours have been shown to be more affected or motivated by negative information than positive: people tend to be more motivated to vote against a candidate because of negative information than they are to vote for a candidate because of positive information. As noted by researcher Jill Klein, “character weaknesses were more important than strengths in determining…the ultimate vote”.

This diagnostic preference for negative traits over positive traits is thought to be a consequence of behavioural expectations: there is a general expectation that, owing to social requirements and regulations, people will generally behave positively and exhibit positive traits. Contrastingly, negative behaviours/traits are more unexpected and, thus, more salient when they are exhibited. The relatively greater salience of negative events or information means they ultimately play a greater role in the judgement process.

Attribution of Intentions

Studies reported in a paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General by Carey Morewedge (2009) found that people exhibit a negativity bias in attribution of external agency, such that they are more likely to attribute negative outcomes to the intentions of another person than similar neutral and positive outcomes. In laboratory experiments, Morewedge found that participants were more likely to believe that a partner had influenced the outcome of a gamble in when the participants lost money than won money, even when the probability of winning and losing money was held even. This bias is not limited to adults. Children also appear to be more likely to attribute negative events to intentional causes than similarly positive events.


As addressed by negative differentiation, negative information seems to require greater information processing resources and activity than does positive information; people tend to think and reason more about negative events than positive events. Neurological differences also point to greater processing of negative information: participants exhibit greater event-related potentials when reading about, or viewing photographs of, people performing negative acts that were incongruent with their traits than when reading about incongruent positive acts. This additional processing leads to differences between positive and negative information in attention, learning, and memory.


A number of studies have suggested that negativity is essentially an attention magnet. For example, when tasked with forming an impression of presented target individuals, participants spent longer looking at negative photographs than they did looking at positive photographs. Similarly, participants registered more eye blinks when studying negative words than positive words (blinking rate has been positively linked to cognitive activity). Also, people were found to show greater orienting responses following negative than positive outcomes, including larger increases in pupil diameter, heart rate, and peripheral arterial tone.

Importantly, this preferential attendance to negative information is evident even when the affective nature of the stimuli is irrelevant to the task itself. The automatic vigilance hypothesis has been investigated using a modified Stroop task. Participants were presented with a series of positive and negative personality traits in several different colours; as each trait appeared on the screen, participants were to name the colour as quickly as possible. Even though the positive and negative elements of the words were immaterial to the colour-naming task, participants were slower to name the colour of negative traits than they were positive traits. This difference in response latencies indicates that greater attention was devoted to processing the trait itself when it was negative.

Aside from studies of eye blinks and colour naming, Baumeister and colleagues noted in their review of bad events versus good events that there is also easily accessible, real-world evidence for this attentional bias: bad news sells more papers and the bulk of successful novels are full of negative events and turmoil. When taken in conjunction with the laboratory-based experiments, there is strong support for the notion that negative information generally has a stronger pull on attention than does positive information.

Learning and Memory

Learning and memory are direct consequences of attentional processing: the more attention is directed or devoted toward something, the more likely it is that it will be later learned and remembered. Research concerning the effects of punishment and reward on learning suggests that punishment for incorrect responses is more effective in enhancing learning than are rewards for correct responses—learning occurs more quickly following bad events than good events.

Drs. Pratto and John addressed the effects of affective information on incidental memory as well as attention using their modified Stroop paradigm (see section concerning “Attention”). Not only were participants slower to name the colours of negative traits, they also exhibited better incidental memory for the presented negative traits than they did for the positive traits, regardless of the proportion of negative to positive traits in the stimuli set.

Intentional memory is also impacted by the stimuli’s negative or positive quality. When studying both positive and negative behaviours, participants tend to recall more negative behaviours during a later memory test than they do positive behaviours, even after controlling for serial position effects. There is also evidence that people exhibit better recognition memory and source memory for negative information.

When asked to recall a recent emotional event, people tend to report negative events more often than they report positive events, and this is thought to be because these negative memories are more salient than are the positive memories. People also tend to underestimate how frequently they experience positive affect, in that they more often forget the positively emotional experiences than they forget negatively emotional experiences.


Studies of the negativity bias have also been related to research within the domain of decision-making, specifically as it relates to risk aversion or loss aversion. When presented with a situation in which a person stands to either gain something or lose something depending on the outcome, potential costs were argued to be more heavily considered than potential gains. The greater consideration of losses (i.e. negative outcomes) is in line with the principle of negative potency as proposed by Rozin and Royzman. This issue of negativity and loss aversion as it relates to decision-making is most notably addressed by Drs. Daniel Kahneman’s and Amos Tversky’s prospect theory.

However, it is worth noting that Rozin and Royzman were never able to find loss aversion in decision making. They wrote, “in particular, strict gain and loss of money does not reliably demonstrate loss aversion”. This is consistent with the findings of a recent review of more than 40 studies of loss aversion focusing on decision problems with equal sized gains and losses. In their review, Yechiam and Hochman (2013) did find a positive effect of losses on performance, autonomic arousal, and response time in decision tasks, which they suggested is due to the effect of losses on attention. This was labelled by them as loss attention.


Research points to a correlation between political affiliation and negativity bias, where conservatives are more sensitive to negative stimuli and therefore tend to lean towards right-leaning ideology which considers threat reduction and social-order to be its main focus. Individuals with lower negativity bias tend to lean towards liberal political policies such as pluralism and are accepting of diverse social groups which by proxy could threaten social structure and cause greater risk of unrest.

Lifespan Development


Although most of the research concerning the negativity bias has been conducted with adults (particularly undergraduate students), there have been a small number of infant studies also suggesting negativity biases.

Infants are thought to interpret ambiguous situations on the basis of how others around them react. When an adult (e.g. experimenter, mother) displays reactions of happiness, fear, or neutrality towards target toys, infants tend to approach the toy associated with the negative reaction significantly less than the neutral and positive toys. Furthermore, there was greater evidence of neural activity when the infants were shown pictures of the “negative” toy than when shown the “positive” and “neutral” toys. Although recent work with 3-month-olds suggests a negativity bias in social evaluations, as well, there is also work suggesting a potential positivity bias in attention to emotional expressions in infants younger than 7 months. A review of the literature conducted by Drs. Amrisha Vaish, Tobias Grossman, and Amanda Woodward suggests the negativity bias may emerge during the second half of an infant’s first year, although the authors also note that research on the negativity bias and affective information has been woefully neglected within the developmental literature.

Aging and Older Adults

Some research indicates that older adults may display, at least in certain situations, a positivity bias or positivity effect. Proposed by Dr. Laura Carstensen and colleagues, the socioemotional selectivity theory outlines a shift in goals and emotion regulation tendencies with advancing age, resulting in a preference for positive information over negative information. Aside from the evidence in favour of a positivity bias, though, there have still been many documented cases of older adults displaying a negativity bias.

This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negativity_bias >; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA.