Problematic research on human happiness

This 2014 UK study provided an example of researchers inappropriately ignoring the limbic system and lower brains when allegedly researching emotions. Only cerebral areas were measured and considered in the researchers’ efforts to measure the subjects’ happiness.

Efforts to determine emotions by cerebral measurements seldom reveal what people actually feel. What’s measured is a construct of people’s cerebrums – a proxy for their emotions – that may not have anything to do with what people actually feel at the time.

It may have been more appropriate to characterize the subjects’ self-reports of happiness as “This is what I think I should tell the researchers about what I think I should feel.”

What we think we should feel is separate from what we actually feel. Limbic system and lower brain measurements need to be taken and considered when subjects self-report degrees of happiness if the researchers intend to draw conclusions about feelings of happiness.

“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.”

It was the researchers’ cerebral exercise of expectations and prediction errors to find:

“Moment-to-moment happiness reflects not just how well things are going, but whether things are going better than expected.”

Informed by the Using expectations of oxytocin to induce positive placebo effects of touching is a cerebral exercise study, I consider the current study to be one big demonstration of how researchers can be fooled by a positive placebo effect! “A computational and neural model of momentary subjective well-being”

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