The York University Magazine

YorkU Fall 2014

The alumni magazine of York University

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romance, science fiction/fantasy and suspense/thriller – predicted interpersonal sensitivity (controlling for individual differences). Participants completed a task testing for the trait and a survey that measured lifetime print exposure through questions about time spent reading. The study found that some, but not all, fiction genres were related to higher interpersonal sensitivity scores. Interestingly, after controlling for personality, gender, age, English fluency and exposure to non-fiction, only the romance and suspense/thriller genres remained significant predictors. And romance was the only fiction genre that predicted greater scores after controlling for other forms of print exposure and various other individual differences. Mar says this could be because romance is a genre of fiction where the plot, goals and character in the narrative might be primarily driven by the navigation and resolution of relation- ships. "If it's the simulation of interpersonal experiences in narrative fiction that best predicts greater performance on interpersonal tasks, then perhaps it is unsurprising that exposure to romance – a genre of fiction that focuses on inter- personal relationships – is most strongly related to this benefit," he says. It may also be possible that readers attracted to the romance genre are already very interested in and proficient at under- standing other people. "Our research makes one thing especially clear," says Mar. "When discussing the relative merits or influence of fiction print exposure on readers, it's important to consider the genre of the literature being discussed." The Pursuit of Happiness Perfect happiness may be an elusive state, but there are surpris- ingly simple things we can do to work towards it. Practising small acts of kindness is a start, suggests clinical psychologist and York Professor Myriam Mongrain, whose paper, "Prac- ticing compassion increases happiness and self-esteem," was published in the Journal of Happiness Studies in 2011. A research study by Mongrain and colleagues shows that the effects of being charitable to others leads to a measureable increase in happiness. More than 700 people took part in the research, which charted the effects of being nice to others in small doses over the course of a week. Researchers asked participants to act com- passionately towards someone for five to15 minutes a day by actively helping or interacting with them in a supportive and considerate manner. Six months later, participants reported increased happiness and self-esteem. "The concept of compassion and kindness resonates with so many religious traditions, but has received little empirical evidence until recently," says Mongrain. "Considering the benefits, the time needed to invest is very small." Participants' levels of depression, happiness and self-esteem were assessed at the study's onset, and at four subsequent points over the next six months. Those in the compassionate condition reported significantly greater increases in self-esteem and happiness at six months compared to those in the control group. So how does such a straightforward idea work? "The simplest answer is that doing noble, charitable acts is hardwired and may have evolutionary benefits. It makes us feel good, improves our social connections, which may improve our immune functioning," Mongrain says. "Being compassionate is not only good for our self-esteem, but we also reaffirm our innate goodness, which is a highly valued trait in our society." Compassion may also improve our physical health. Previous studies have shown a causal relationship between compassionate behaviours and physiological responses, notes Mongrain, including the rewarding effects of oxytocin, known as the "love molecule." Food for Thought Cognit ive neuroscient ist and York Distinguished Research Professor Ellen Bialystok has spent nearly 40 years researching 14 YorkU Fall 2014 D o i n g n o b l e , c h a r i t a b l e a c t s i s h a r d w i re d a n d m a y h a v e e v o l u t i o n a r y b e n e f i t s

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