Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Happiness


Over 500 million people interact daily with Facebook. Yet, whether Facebook use influences subjective well-being over time is unknown. We addressed this issue using experience-sampling, the most reliable method for measuring in-vivo behavior and psychological experience. We text-messaged people five times per day for two-weeks to examine how Facebook use influences the two components of subjective well-being: how people feel moment-to-moment and how satisfied they are with their lives. Our results indicate that Facebook use predicts negative shifts on both of these variables over time. The more people used Facebook at one time point, the worse they felt the next time we text-messaged them; the more they used Facebook over two-weeks, the more their life satisfaction levels declined over time. Interacting with other people “directly” did not predict these negative outcomes. They were also not moderated by the size of people’s Facebook networks, their perceived supportiveness, motivation for using Facebook, gender, loneliness, self-esteem, or depression. On the surface, Facebook provides an invaluable resource for fulfilling the basic human need for social connection. Rather than enhancing well-being, however, these findings suggest that Facebook may undermine it.

Concepts: Criticism of Facebook, Subjective life satisfaction, Need, The Next Time, Happiness, Fundamental human needs, Motivation, Psychology


Emotional states can be transferred to others via emotional contagion, leading people to experience the same emotions without their awareness. Emotional contagion is well established in laboratory experiments, with people transferring positive and negative emotions to others. Data from a large real-world social network, collected over a 20-y period suggests that longer-lasting moods (e.g., depression, happiness) can be transferred through networks [Fowler JH, Christakis NA (2008) BMJ 337:a2338], although the results are controversial. In an experiment with people who use Facebook, we test whether emotional contagion occurs outside of in-person interaction between individuals by reducing the amount of emotional content in the News Feed. When positive expressions were reduced, people produced fewer positive posts and more negative posts; when negative expressions were reduced, the opposite pattern occurred. These results indicate that emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks. This work also suggests that, in contrast to prevailing assumptions, in-person interaction and nonverbal cues are not strictly necessary for emotional contagion, and that the observation of others' positive experiences constitutes a positive experience for people.

Concepts: Happiness, Empathy, Empiricism, Psychology, Social network, Emotion, Sociology, Experiment


The worldwide fascination of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa has been dedicated to the emotional ambiguity of her face expression. In the present study we manipulated Mona Lisa’s mouth curvature as one potential source of ambiguity and studied how a range of happier and sadder face variants influences perception. In two experimental conditions we presented different stimulus ranges with different step sizes between stimuli along the happy-sad axis of emotional face expressions. Stimuli were presented in random order and participants indicated the perceived emotional face expression (first task) and the confidence of their response (second task). The probability of responding ‘happy’ to the original Mona Lisa was close to 100%. Furthermore, in both conditions the perceived happiness of Mona Lisa variants described sigmoidal functions of the mouth curvature. Participants' confidence was weakest around the sigmoidal inflection points. Remarkably, the sigmoidal functions, as well as confidence values and reaction times, differed significantly between experimental conditions. Finally, participants responded generally faster to happy than to sad faces. Overall, the original Mona Lisa seems to be less ambiguous than expected. However, perception of and reaction to the emotional face content is relative and strongly depends on the used stimulus range.

Concepts: Louvre, Happiness, Florence, Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa


Life satisfaction refers to a somewhat stable cognitive assessment of one’s own life. Life satisfaction is an important component of subjective well being, the scientific term for happiness. The other component is affect: the balance between the presence of positive and negative emotions in daily life. While affect has been studied using social media datasets (particularly from Twitter), life satisfaction has received little to no attention. Here, we examine trends in posts about life satisfaction from a two-year sample of Twitter data. We apply a surveillance methodology to extract expressions of both satisfaction and dissatisfaction with life. A noteworthy result is that consistent with their definitions trends in life satisfaction posts are immune to external events (political, seasonal etc.) unlike affect trends reported by previous researchers. Comparing users we find differences between satisfied and dissatisfied users in several linguistic, psychosocial and other features. For example the latter post more tweets expressing anger, anxiety, depression, sadness and on death. We also study users who change their status over time from satisfied with life to dissatisfied or vice versa. Noteworthy is that the psychosocial tweet features of users who change from satisfied to dissatisfied are quite different from those who stay satisfied over time. Overall, the observations we make are consistent with intuition and consistent with observations in the social science research. This research contributes to the study of the subjective well being of individuals through social media.

Concepts: Science, Scientific method, Twitter, Happiness, Personal life, Sociology, Emotions, Psychology


The subjective well-being or happiness of individuals is an important metric for societies. Although happiness is influenced by life circumstances and population demographics such as wealth, we know little about how the cumulative influence of daily life events are aggregated into subjective feelings. Using computational modeling, we show that emotional reactivity in the form of momentary happiness in response to outcomes of a probabilistic reward task is explained not by current task earnings, but by the combined influence of recent reward expectations and prediction errors arising from those expectations. The robustness of this account was evident in a large-scale replication involving 18,420 participants. Using functional MRI, we show that the very same influences account for task-dependent striatal activity in a manner akin to the influences underpinning changes in happiness.

Concepts: Model, Personal life, Expected value, Cognitive science, Happiness, Psychology, Neuroscience, Scientific method


Experiential purchases (money spent on doing) tend to provide more enduring happiness than material purchases (money spent on having). Although most research comparing these two types of purchases has focused on their downstream hedonic consequences, the present research investigated hedonic differences that occur before consumption. We argue that waiting for experiences tends to be more positive than waiting for possessions. Four studies demonstrate that people derive more happiness from the anticipation of experiential purchases and that waiting for an experience tends to be more pleasurable and exciting than waiting to receive a material good. We found these effects in studies using questionnaires involving a variety of actual planned purchases, in a large-scale experience-sampling study, and in an archival analysis of news stories about people waiting in line to make a purchase. Consumers derive value from anticipation, and that value tends to be greater for experiential than for material purchases.

Concepts: Louisiana Purchase, Hedonism, Tendency, Experience, Present, Purchasing, Tend, Happiness


Psychologists, quality of life and well-being researchers have grown increasingly interested in understanding the factors that are associated with human happiness. Although twin studies estimate that genetic factors account for 35-50% of the variance in human happiness, knowledge of specific genes is limited. However, recent advances in molecular genetics can now provide a window into neurobiological markers of human happiness. This investigation examines association between happiness and monoamine oxidase A (MAOA) genotype. Data were drawn from a longitudinal study of a population-based cohort, followed for three decades. In women, low expression of MAOA (MAOA-L) was related significantly to greater happiness (0.261 SD increase with one L-allele, 0.522 SD with two L-alleles, P=0.002) after adjusting for the potential effects of age, education, household income, marital status, employment status, mental disorder, physical health, relationship quality, religiosity, abuse history, recent negative life events and self-esteem use in linear regression models. In contrast, no such association was found in men. This new finding may help explain the gender difference on happiness and provide a link between MAOA and human happiness.

Concepts: Evolution, DNA, Happiness, Linear regression, Biology, Gene, Monoamine oxidase, Genetics


Happiness is among the most fundamental of all human goals. Although the short-term association between physical activity and happiness is well known, the long-term associations are not. Data from the National Population Health Survey cycles conducted between 1994/1995 and 2008/2009 (cycles 1 through 8) were analyzed. Happy respondents were classified as physically active or inactive at baseline and then were followed up in subsequent cycles to examine their likelihood of becoming unhappy. Individuals who changed their activity level also were examined. After controlling for potential confounding factors, the authors found that leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) was associated with reduced odds of unhappiness after 2 years and 4 years. People who were inactive in 2 consecutive cycles were more than twice as likely to be unhappy as those who remained active in both cycles after 2 years. Compared with those who became active, inactive participants who remained inactive were also more likely to become unhappy. A change in LTPA from active to inactive was associated with increased odds of becoming unhappy 2 years later. This study suggests that LTPA has a long-term association with happiness. Changes in LTPA are associated with subsequent mood status.

Concepts: Happiness, Term, Depression, Physical exercise, Health, Time, Bipolar disorder, Change


Research suggesting that political conservatives are happier than political liberals has relied exclusively on self-report measures of subjective well-being. We show that this finding is fully mediated by conservatives' self-enhancing style of self-report (study 1; N = 1433) and then describe three studies drawing from “big data” sources to assess liberal-conservative differences in happiness-related behavior (studies 2 to 4; N = 4936). Relative to conservatives, liberals more frequently used positive emotional language in their speech and smiled more intensely and genuinely in photographs. Our results were consistent across large samples of online survey takers, U.S. politicians, Twitter users, and LinkedIn users. Our findings illustrate the nuanced relationship between political ideology, self-enhancement, and happiness and illuminate the contradictory ways that happiness differences can manifest across behavior and self-reports.

Concepts: Political ideologies, Positive liberty, Liberal conservatism, Political spectrum, Happiness, Liberalism, Political philosophy, Conservatism


We offer and test a simple operationalization of hedonic and eudaimonic well-being (“happiness”) as mediating variables that link outcomes to motivation. In six evolutionary agent-based simulation experiments, we compared the relative performance of agents endowed with different combinations of happiness-related traits (parameter values), under four types of environmental conditions. We found (i) that the effects of attaching more weight to longer-term than to momentary happiness and of extending the memory for past happiness are both stronger in an environment where food is scarce; (ii) that in such an environment “relative consumption,” in which the agent’s well-being is negatively affected by that of its neighbors, is more detrimental to survival when food is scarce; and (iii) that having a positive outlook, under which agents' longer-term happiness is increased by positive events more than it is decreased by negative ones, is generally advantageous.

Concepts: Agent, Positive mental attitude, Environmental science, Economics, Environment, Parameter, Happiness