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Is your well-being influenced by the guy sitting next to you? (Nov-03)

Rating your satisfaction with your life may not be a completely personal decision. See how your satisfaction rating may be influenced by others.

When answering this question, imagine that there is someone in a wheelchair sitting next to you. They will also be answering this question, but you will not have to share your answers with each other.

How satisfied are you with your life in general?

Extremely satisfied 1       2       3       4       5       6       7       8       9       10 Not at all satisfied

How do you compare to the people surveyed?

You gave your life satisfaction a rating of 1, which means that you are extremely satisfied with your life. In a study done where people with a disabled person sitting next to them wrote down their life satisfaction on a questionnaire, they gave an average life satisfaction rating of 2.4, which means they were very satisfied with their lives.

What if you'd had to report your well-being to another person instead of writing it down?

In the study, half the people had to report their well-being in an interview with a confederate (a member of the research team who was posing as another participant). When the participants had to report in this way, and the confederate was not disabled, the participants rated their well-being as significantly better than those who reported by writing it on the questionnaire in the presence of a non-disabled confederate (2.0 vs. 3.4, lower score means higher well-being). The scores given when reporting to a disabled confederate elicited a well-being score that was no different than that when completing the questionnaire in the presence of a disabled confederate (2.3 vs. 2.4).

Mean life satisfaction ratings, lower score means higher satisfaction
Mode of rating well-being Disabled confederate Non-disabled Confederate
Interview (public) 2.3 2.0
Questionnaire (private) 2.4 3.4
What caused the difference in well-being scores?

When making judgments of well-being, people (at least in this study) tend to compare themselves to those around them. This effect is seen more when well-being was reported in an interview than when the score was privately written down, due to self-presentation concerns. A higher rating was given in public so as to appear to be better off than one may truly feel. Note that the effect was only seen in the case where the confederate was not disabled. While well-being ratings were better overall with a disabled confederate, there was no difference between the private and public ratings. Social comparison led to a better well-being judgment, but it appears that the participants were hesitant to rate themselves too highly in front of the disabled person for fear of making the disabled person feel worse.

Why is this important?

Subjective well-being is a commonly used measure in many areas of research. For example, it is used as one way to look at the effectiveness new surgeries or medications. The above studies show that SWB scores can vary depending on the conditions under which they are given. Someone may give a response of fairly high SWB if they are interviewed before leaving the hospital, surrounded by people more sick than they are. From this, it would appear as though their treatment worked great. But suppose that they are asked to complete a follow-up internet survey a week later. Since they do not have to respond to an actual person face-to-face, and without being surrounded by sick people, they may give a lower rating than previously. Is this because the treatment actually made their SWB worse over the longer term, or simply because a different method was used to get their response? The only way to really know would be to use the same methodology to get all their responses, which might not always be feasible. These are important considerations for researchers to keep in mind when analyzing results of their studies. Are the results they got the true SWB of their participants, or is it an artifact of how the study was done? And is there a way to know which measure is right, or are they both right which would lead to the conclusion that SWB is purely a momentary judgment based on a social context?

For more information see:

Strack F, Schwarz N, Chassein B, Kern D, Wagner D. Salience of comparison standards and the activation of social norms: Consequences for judgements of happiness and their communication. British Journal of Social Psychology. 29:303-314, 1990.

Bioethics Grand Rounds: Musical Event "When Death Comes Callin"

Wed, October 26, 2016, 12:00pm
Location: 
UH Ford Amphitheater & Lobby

When Death Comes Callin': Songs and Reflections About Death

Charlotte DeVries, Jeanne Mackey, Merilynne Rush, and friends offer a program of songs and brief readings reflecting various perspectives on death - humorous, sad, thoughtful, and quirky.

Lunch is provided on a first-come, first-served basis.

Check out the Ethics Path available to Michigan medical students through the Paths of Excellence (PoE) program. The ethics path provides opportunities for individualized, independent study, combined with field work with CBSSM, and a capstone project in the M4 year.

Click here for more information about the PoE program.

Research Topics: 

Michael Poulin,PhD, has joined the faculty at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York (SUNY) as an AssistantProfessor of Psychology. Dr. Poulin was a post-doctoral fellow at CBSSM for twoyears, under the mentorship of StephanieBrown, PhD.  During this time he was anactive member of the CBSSM research community and a delightful colleague. Dr. Poulin's research focuses on the effects of stress on health and well-being, especiallythe ways people cope with stressful events. He examines how people's beliefsabout the world, including religious beliefs and beliefs about thetrustworthiness of others, influence adjustment to stress.  

Lewis Morgenstern, MD

Thu, December 20, 2007

A CBSSM study found that colostomy patients who felt that their condition was irreversible reported better quality of life than those who hoped that they would be cured. For a summary, see this press release and video. The researchers are Dylan M. Smith, PhD; Peter A. Ubel, MD; Aleksandra Jankovic, MS (all at the University of Michigan); and George Loewenstein, PhD, (of Carnegie Mellon University). Health Psychology will publish the article in mid-November 2009.

Press coverage of this research has been extensive. Peter Bregman reported on the study in the July 2009 Business Week Online, applying the concepts to help people manage their stressful and unpredictable lives. Read his full article here. Preliminary data from this study were cited in the 7th Annual “Year in Ideas” issue of the New York Times Magazine in December 2007. Read recent international media coverage:
US News and World Report Health Day
Voice of America Radio
Daily Mail UK
Reuters India

Tue, January 03, 2017

Reshma Jagsi was recently interviewed for a Marketplace (NPR) piece on the JAMA Internal Medicine study, "Comparison of Hospital Mortality and Readmission Rates for Medicare Patients Treated by Male vs Female Physicians" which found that elderly patients cared for by female doctors fare better than those treated by men.

The novelty of risk and vaccination intentions (May-12)

It's 2009.  Early in the year, a 9-year-old girl from California became the first person with a confirmed case of H1N1 ("swine") influenza in the United States.  Shortly thereafter, the U.S. declared a public health emergency and the World Health Organization declared a phase 6 pandemic (the highest level possible).  By September 2009 a vaccination was developed and was available within a month.

You've been following the news about the H1N1 influenza as developments have unfolded throughout the year, and you feel some concern.  You have been wondering about the risk of coming down with the H1N1 flu yourself and have been thinking about whether you should be vaccinated. 

Thu, May 26, 2011

Raymond De Vries was appointed Professor of Midwifery Science at the University of Maastricht (Netherlands) in November 2010.  As is the custom in European universities, he delivered an inaugural lecture, outlining the educational and research goals of his professorship on May 26, 2011.  It was preceded by a research symposium focusing on risk in maternity care, with speakers exploring the way risk is measured and used by care providers and the way pregnant women respond to assessments of risk they are given. Click here to view a video of his inaugural address, which is in English. Click here for a news article about Dr. De Vries, in Dutch.

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