Social Interactions, Identity & Well-Being Research Progress
It may seem strange to see a concept such as happiness quantified in the complex equations and formulae that are the cornerstones of economic research. And yet, Social Interactions, Identity & Well-Being research illustrates how concepts such as well-being and identity can be meaningfully understood via the rigour of academic inquiry.
Case in point: program members identify that a major contributor to happiness, which traditional economics ignores, is the sense of identity that comes from belonging to groups and from having control over one’s outcomes and surroundings. Group identity affects many forms of behaviour: suicide rates are lower in aboriginal communities that have self government (and therefore stronger group identification) compared to those that do not; employees become more productive and satisfied when they have greater input into the design of their workspace; senior citizens adapt more effectively to moves to long-term care facilities if they maintain memberships in formal clubs or informal groups of friends.
In long-term care facilities, changes such as aging and declining health are a threat to residents’ sense of self and well-being. A range of studies known collectively as “The Social Cure” use theory, experimentation and field trials to show how well-being can be improved simply by helping people engage with each other more. Studies of identity loss among seniors when they move from their homes to long-term care facilities found that those who remain engaged in social groups and clubs fare better. This study and others demonstrate that health care interventions that get people involved with social networks can foster new social identities that can buffer adverse effects of aging, promote recovery from heart surgery and stroke, and delay the onset of degenerative diseases.
The program’s central theme of social networks is also crucial to issues of immigration and diversity. Program members investigate and discuss many factors that influence integration, cultural attitudes and ideologies. This research plays a crucial role in how well cultures, societies and economies adjust to, and benefit from, increasing diversity.
Global financial crisis has become another branch of the program's research agenda – the global economic meltdown at the end of the last decade highlighted the existence of powerful psychological forces at play that are not captured in traditional economic models. Blind faith in rising housing prices, plummeting confidence in capital markets, and other phenomena at the nexus of emotion and economics are the subject of program member and Nobel Laureate George Akerlof’s acclaimed book, Animal Spirits. By challenging the economic wisdom that devastated economies around the world, the book presents a valuable analysis and bold new vision that can lead to more effective preventive measures against future crises.