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Does Having a Baby Actually Make Parents Happy?

The first year tends to be great. The fifth, not so much.

For many couples, having a baby is one of their greatest wishes in life. But does having a baby really make parents happier? And if yes, how long does this baby bliss last? A new study published in the journal Emotion focused on answering these questions (Asselmann & Specht, 2023).
A New Study on How Parents Feel After Having a Baby
In the study, German scientists Eva Asselmann and Jule Specht analyzed data from more than 5,000 first-time parents from the German Socio-Economic Panel, a large-scale cohort study that started in 1984. All parents included in the study had experienced the birth of their first child between 2007 and 2019. The parents were interviewed yearly and asked about a number of different things. These included life satisfaction (“How satisfied are you currently with your life as a whole?”), as well as happiness, sadness, anxiety, and anger in the four weeks before the interview. These data were analyzed from five years before the couple became parents to five years after they became parents.
A Surprising Result
The scientists found out that having a baby changes psychological well-being in several ways.
The most pronounced effect was a strong increase in life satisfaction and happiness in the first year of parenthood – so baby bliss is indeed real! However, life satisfaction and happiness gradually bounced back in the years following the baby’s birth. Altogether, couples showed similar levels of life satisfaction and happiness five years after becoming parents compared to five years before becoming parents.
Regarding negative emotions, the strongest effect was found for anger. Anger decreases in the five years before a couple becomes parents and reaches its lowest point during the first year of parenthood. After that, it increases, and five years after the baby was born, anger was even larger than five years before the baby was born.
The authors of the study suggested that these higher anger levels reflect a reaction due to the stressful aspects of being a parent, such as sleep deprivation or time conflicts between family and work. For sadness and anxiety, the effects were only small. Sadness showed similar effects to anger but did not reach higher levels five years after the baby was born compared to five years before the baby was born, and anxiety gradually increased the five years before the baby was born, which may reflect anticipation effects.
An analysis of gender effects revealed that mothers experienced a more substantial increase in happiness and life satisfaction than fathers but also experienced stronger anger effects. The study's authors suggested that biological factors or gender role expectations may explain this effec.
Take-Away: Baby Bliss Lasts for a Short Time
Taken together, the results of the study clearly show that baby bliss exists. In the first year of a baby’s life, the parents are happier and more satisfied with their life than before. However, this effect only lasts shortly and when the child is five years old, both happiness and life satisfaction of his or her parents had bounced back to the level they were at five years before the child was born.
Moreover, anger levels rise, reflecting the stressful aspects of parenthood. This shows that having a baby has a lot of positive short-term effects on psychological well-being, but for high long-term life satisfaction, it is essential to find strategies to cope with the stressful aspects of having a child.

psychology today

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The Secret Behaviors That Make People Likable

How to impress others in initial encounters.

We meet someone — a stranger – and we immediately form an impression of that person. Often, we make a snap decision: “I like that person,” or “I really don’t care for them.” This important initial judgment can affect not only how we feel about the person, but whether we continue to interact with them, whether we want to develop a friendship or dating relationship, or, in the case of a hiring interview, whether the person gets the job.
Social psychological research suggests that there are certain behaviors that can strongly affect our initial impressions of strangers. In one study (Dufner & Krause, 2023), unacquainted young adults met in small groups and then spent a short amount of time interacting with each group member one-on-one. After each meeting, they rated how likable they found each stranger — whether they would like to get to know them and become friends with them. Trained observers watched each interaction and coded them for “agentic” and “communal” behaviors. Agentic behaviors are those that show confidence, dominance, and are slightly boastful. Communal behaviors include being polite, warm, friendly, and benevolent.
As far as initial likability, strangers who displayed high levels of both agentic and communal behaviors were better liked. However, when it came to establishing a deeper connection, it was only the communal behavior that predicted whether people wanted to form a friendship with the stranger. This makes sense. In an initial encounter, we may be impressed with people who are confident and proud/boastful. An air of confidence can increase liking. On the other hand, communal behavior – being warm, friendly, and polite – is strongly appealing and we want to get to know people better if they are warm, friendly, and seem to care.
Nonverbal Cues of Likability
In our own research, we found that in initial encounters with strangers, expressive body language led to greater liking. However, we also found a sex difference, such that men who were expressive with their bodies via posture and head movements were better liked, while women who were expressive with their facial expressions were most liked (Riggio & Friedman, 1986). We also found that nonverbally expressive people were better liked, and perceived as more attractive potential dating partners (Riggio, Widaman, Tucker, & Salinas, 1991).
So, what should someone do to increase their likability when meeting strangers? Try your best to appear warm and friendly, but it is also important to bring expressive energy to the encounter. Show that you are interested. Exude positive affect/emotions and a slight air of confidence. Demonstrate that you care about the other person by being a good listener. Let people know something about you, and show that you are proud of the positive things that you have accomplished.

psychology today


The Promise of Studying Human Aggression in the Wild

The Promise of Studying Human Aggression in the Wild

What causes some individuals to act out violently when provoked, while others turn the other cheek? For decades, psychologists, criminologists, and sociologists (among others) have tried to understand the causes of this type of behavior, referred to as ‘reactive aggression’. From this work, we know that there are some vital ingredients that when combined, are a recipe for reactive aggression.
What makes some people likely to react aggressively?
Being angry is one key ingredient. Trait-level characteristics like being quick to anger, or temporarily being in an irritable emotional state, increase the likelihood that individuals will respond aggressively. Another common ingredient is a loosening of inhibitions, such as what is observed due to alcohol intoxication. In individuals with a history of reactive aggression, there are differences in brain activity that correspond to heightened reactivity to provocation and a hard time stopping oneself from reacting to an insult with violence.
But even if we don’t consider ourselves aggressive people or haven’t seriously harmed another person (intentionally), it’s a very human experience to want to lash out with words or fists, or just punch a pillow, when we’ve been angered by someone. Many pioneering social psychologists argued that, under the right circumstances, almost anyone could act immorally or aggressively. A less extreme version of this is the notion that all behaviors (good and bad) arise from the interaction of the person and their environment (Lewin, 1936). So can our environments make us aggressive?
What do we know about the role of our surroundings?
Unfortunately, understanding what role the external, physical or social environment plays in leading people to act aggressively is quite a challenge. Experimental research on human behavior is usually conducted in the lab, a distinctly unnatural environment for a human being**. And due to (reasonable) ethical constraints, scientists can’t ask participants to inflict significant physical harm on another human. Given this, how can we know what elements and features of our surroundings might lead to reactive aggression?
For example, say we want to know if and why nature exposure might reduce aggression. Some research has shown this through virtual nature interventions and lab-based aggression tasks in which people are ostensibly paired with a person in another room toward whom they are acting aggressively (Wang et al., 2018). But what about doing so in real natural environments?
Steps toward testing aggression in the wild
Trying to address this type of question is what led me and my colleagues to create a new task, which we call the Retaliate or Carry-on: Reactive AGgression Experiment (RC-RAGE for short), a browser-based task of impulsive, reactive aggression, recently published in Behavior Research Methods (Meidenbauer et al., 2023). We validated the task in a large online sample of US adults and found that, consistent with other literature, being in an angry emotional state and having a history of physical aggression or being quick to anger was associated with reactive aggression on our task.
Another interesting thing we found was that the people most likely to react aggressively when provoked were those who tended to act impulsively. We found this impactful in its own right, but given that research has suggested nature interactions can reduce impulsivity (Berry et al., 2014), this suggests another mechanism that might explain why we see less violence and aggression in people or areas with greater nature exposure.
Additionally, our task was designed to be portable and flexible enough to use outside the lab, opening up a variety of opportunities to study aggression in real environments. It should be noted that, like all other aggression tasks, ours suffers from some limitations; for example, we can’t inflict great harm for ethical reasons so our acts of aggression involve stealing money and shooting an avatar.
Changing our environments to reduce violence?
Nonetheless, it does create an exciting means to examine how different types of physical environments and social contexts can influence reactive aggression. And when it comes to the physical environment, it’s much easier to change an external environment than to change an individual. Thus, research on this topic can generate insights for reducing violence by changing individuals' physical surroundings. In fact, some researchers are already trying to reduce violence by greening vacant lots or planting trees, with very promising results (Kondo et al., 2018).
While there is still plenty of work to be done on this front, it’s a truly exciting time to see what we can learn by moving aggression research into real-world environments.

psychology today