Take the ‘Happiness Experiment’

Happiness is a state of mind. We all know that. But when it comes to deciding whether another person is truly happy, our perceptions are colored by our own states of mind–in particular, by our  value judgments. A person can have all the mental characteristics of a happy person, but if he or she is living what we consider a “bad life,” we are far less likely to judge that they are happy. Surprisingly, the same moral evaluations do not seem to enter into our concept of unhappiness.

These are the findings of a trio of researchers at Yale University: Jonathan Phillips, Luke Misenheimer and Joshua Knobe. You can read about the study in their paper, “The Ordinary Concept of Happiness (And Others Like It),” published in the July, 2011 Emotion Review. The study is part of a new movement called Experimental Philosophy (or “x-phi”), which goes beyond the philosopher’s traditional method of testing intuitions–a priori conceptual analysis–to use of the tools of cognitive science. You can learn more at the Yale Experimental Philosophy Web site, and take the entertaining video test above to get a taste of some of the counterintuitive findings of x-phi.

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Comments (6)
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  • leslie sachs says:

    when you introduce the concept of “love” and create a sensibility of two distinct types of people (“good” and “bad”) yet they share the same feelings of being un-loved..then the experimental focus shifts completely and the LOVE factor colors all perceptions.

  • farah says:

    meaningful !!

  • Cynthia ☮ ❤ ❀ says:

    Looks like a lot of money was spent to research COMMON SENSE!

  • This embodies precisely what is wrong with much of what passes for analytic philosophy. We are asked to suspend our common sense and accept premises that are absurd. Why should one believe that the psychological states of the 2 women could possibly be identical. My differing judgments are not reducible to my personal moral values. I simply reject the premise. What I add a Maria #3 who is a street prostitute to support her meth addiction and who, in her spare time, tortures kittens. But, I insist, her psychological state is the same as Maria #1. That is not “experimental” philosophy because that person does not exist and I would say probably cannot exist in the world as we know it. Give me evidence that Maria #2 exists and then perhaps we can have an experiment.

  • sherry graham says:

    Maria #1 is not using drugs or alcohol in the way Maria #2 is. My EXPERIENCE which creates some of my perception is that people who are using d&a in an extreme amount over long periods of time, do not know really how they truly feel b/c they are masking their feelings. It may be a simple answer but the observer’s perceptions are what is truly being measured here.

  • Joe says:

    We are taking into consideration the future happiness of these two. Pushing her friends away, snorting coke, sleeping around, and shallow pursuits with little promise. Maria #2 is in for a big fall.
    All of this must be taken in context.

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