Monday, April 30, 2007

Peter Singer Suggests More Smiling

...For many governments, both national and local, preventing crime is a far higher priority than encouraging friendship and cooperation. But, as Professor Richard Layard of the London School of Economics has argued in his recent book Happiness: Lessons from a New Science , promoting friendship is often easy, cheap, and can have big payoffs in making people happier. So why shouldn’t that be a focus of public policy?

Very small positive experiences can make people not only feel better about themselves, but also be more helpful to others. In the 1970’s, American psychologists Alice Isen and Paula Levin conducted an experiment in which some randomly selected people making a phone call found a ten-cent coin left behind by a previous caller, and others did not. All subjects were then given an opportunity to help a woman pick up a folder of papers she dropped in front of them.

Isen and Levin claimed that of the 16 who found a coin, 14 helped the woman, while of the 25 who did not find a coin, only one helped her. A further study found a similar difference in willingness to mail an addressed letter that had been left behind in the phone booth: those who found the coin were more likely to mail the letter.

Although later research has cast doubt on the existence of such dramatic differences, there is little doubt that being in a good mood makes people feel better about themselves and more likely to help others. Psychologists refer to it as the “glow of goodwill.” Why shouldn’t taking small steps that may produce such a glow be part of the role of government?

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

a flower for you, helmut

Addofio said...

I'm sure the effect is real--but how would one get from there to any kind of policy? I fear the methods available to government and public policy are too crude--the instruments too blunt--to effectively create a "friendship"--or, more accurately to the research, a "do something nice for a stranger" policy.

Anonymous said...

Seems like creating good feelings among the populace about each other would go a long way toward preventing crime. I would guess that people in strong social networks are less likely to get snared by the motivations toward crime, and those not involved in crime would be more likely to take steps to prevent or report it.

OTOH, a local good samaratin who stopped on the highway when he saw a guy running his pickup truck over his pregnant girlfriend was killed this weekend when the guy ran over him. The girlfriend and fetus are reported to be doing all right.

We could all start with outrageous acts of kindness and so on. Or leave dimes in phone booths. (But who uses phone booths any more?)

Public policy could start in this direction by moving away from fear-filled messages about damn near everything.

Thanks, helmut for a positive thought when I feel like I'm drowning in - well, I won't say it and ruin this thread.

CKR

helmut said...

There's a little cottage industry in the study of "happiness" among development economists and ethicists. Some of this stems from curiosity over Bhutan's "Happiness Index." Sounds kind of silly. But, even if not an adequate policy instrument, notions of happiness can at least serve as critiques of orthodox policy instruments. The problem with the going methods of analysis and policymaking is that they're limited in other ways to assumptions about rationality that many who study the nature of rationality don't even agree with any more.

Anonymous said...

...there is little doubt that being in a good mood makes people feel better about themselves and more likely to help others. Psychologists refer to it as the “glow of goodwill.” Why shouldn’t taking small steps that may produce such a glow be part of the role of government?

...and I thought thats what American Idol was all about.

Murky Thoughts said...

Maybe like some countries have national service, we could institute national secret santas!

helmut said...

I'm smiling right now at the absurdity of it all.