Elizabeth Dunn


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Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Nov 2019)
Exchanging cents for seconds : the happiness benefits of choosing time over money (2017)

Most North Americans report feeling increasingly pressed for both time and money. When attempting to maximize well-being, what should people do: give up money to have more time or give up time to have more money? To answer this question, I assess whether and how trading discretionary income to have more free time promotes happiness. First, I develop a new measure (the Resource Orientation Measure) and use this measure to assess whether people’s general orientations to value time over money are associated with greater happiness (Studies 1-5; N = 7,196). Across five studies, I find evidence that people’s general orientation to prioritize time over money is associated with greater happiness, and that this finding holds controlling for materialism, current feelings of time and material affluence, financial security, and demographic characteristics such as income and marital status. Building on this work, I narrow my investigation to one specific instantiation of choosing time over money: using money to buy time by delegating disliked tasks. In Studies 6-11, I document a positive association between buying time and happiness (N = 4,217). Again, these links hold controlling for possible third variables such as discretionary income, the amount of money that people report spending on leisure activities, income, age, gender, and marital status. In Studies 9 to 12 I document a mechanism for these results: buying time protects people from the negative impact of time-stress on happiness. I then provide evidence that buying time causes happiness (N = 60; Study 13). Working adults report greater end-of-day happiness after spending $40 on a time-saving purchase than after spending $40 on a material purchase for themselves. The benefits of buying time are driven in part through reductions in perceived time pressure. Finally, I develop a novel paradigm to demonstrate a key factor that can undermine the benefits of buying time: guilt (Study 14). This work provides the first empirical evidence that buying time can promote subjective well-being.

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Digitally connected, socially disconnected : can smartphones compromise the benefits of interacting with others?

Since the first computers began entering people’s homes more than 30 years ago, human-computer interactions (HCI) have become central to people’s everyday activities. A decade later, the Internet powered another technological revolution by connecting computers and transforming how people connect with one another. And less than 10 years ago, the advent of ultraportable computing devices such as smartphones has marked the beginning of yet another technological age—one in which people can connect to unlimited digital worlds everywhere they go. In this digital age of pervasive computing, people can foster a sense of connectedness with others virtually anywhere. But could this ubiquitous connectivity have hidden costs for the fabric of people’s nondigital social lives? To provide an initial insight into this question, I examine how smartphones may be affecting both the quality and the quantity of people’s in-person social interactions. I show that smartphones can fracture attention and compromise the social connectedness parents reap when spending time with their children at a summer festival (Study 1) and at a science museum (Study 2). Beyond the realm of close relationships, I find preliminary evidence that smartphones may affect the social and emotional benefits people realize when they have the opportunity to forge new relationships—both while having food together (Study 3) and while waiting together (Study 4). And, using nationally representative data from the World Values Survey (Study 5) and data from a controlled experiment (Study 6), I show that smartphones may be affecting the broader social fabric of society by compromising opportunities to cultivate a sense of trust in others. Finally, I theorize more broadly about how and when ubiquitous connectivity may undermine or support social and emotional well-being. Specifically, I propose factors that may both moderate and mediate (e.g., asynchronisity, capitalization, social signaling) the effects of ubiquitous connectivity.

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Social interactions and well-being : the surprising power of weak ties (2013)

Can acquaintances contribute to our happiness, or are they inconsequential compared to close friends and family? This dissertation expands the focus of study within social psychology, which has been almost exclusively directed towards strong ties, to include examination of weak ties (i.e., acquaintances). A broad sample of Americans reported the number of weak ties they had in their social network, and rated their own happiness (Study 1). People with more weak tie relationships reported being happier. Switching the focus from social relationships to social interactions, students kept track of their interactions with weak tie classmates during a particular class, and reported their happiness after class (Study 2). During classes when they had more interactions with weak tie classmates than usual, they were happier. Expanding the scope to include all daily interactions, students kept track of their interactions with weak ties (Study 3). As before, on days when they had more interactions with weak ties than usual, they were happier. Given that people trim their social networks as they age, and interact with fewer acquaintances starting in their late teens, we replicated this study with a community sample (Study 4). People again reported positive consequences on days when they interacted with more weak ties. The last two studies were experimental, rather than correlational. In a field study at Starbucks, people who were assigned to have a genuine social interaction with the cashier, thus treating them more like a weak tie than a stranger, experienced a more positive mood than people who were assigned to have an efficient interaction with the cashier (Study 5). Finally, participants were instructed to increase the number of daily weak tie interactions for ten days, to test whether this would cause sustained increases in happiness (Study 6). Although people experienced an increase in flourishing, and reported a somewhat greater decrease in loneliness over time than people in the control condition, there were no broad changes in happiness or belonging. These studies – the first in social psychology to explicitly focus on weak ties – consistently find a relationship between weak ties and happiness.

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On financial generosity and well-being: when, where and how spending money on others increases happiness (2012)

No abstract available.

Master's Student Supervision (2010 - 2018)
Thinking about time as money decreases environmental behavior (2014)

Despite high profile environmental campaigns, Americans are no more likely to engage in environmental behavior today than they were 20 years ago. A novel explanation for this paradox may lie in the increasing tendency for people to see their time as money. National survey data suggests that seeing time as money is related to decreased environmental behavior. Using large-scale survey data (Study 1), we show that people are less likely to engage in environmental behavior if they are paid by the hour, a form of compensation that leads people to see their time as money. Using experimental methodology, we show that making the economic value of time salient lowers intentions to engage in environmental behavior (Studies 2 & 3) and actual recycling (Study 4). In Study 4, students led to see their time as money were five times less likely to recycle scrap paper when given the opportunity. In Study 5, we document a mechanism for this effect—individuals who are paid by the hour are chronically aware of the opportunity costs associated with engaging in everyday environmental behavior. Together, this research suggests that environmental decisions are shaped by viewing time as money, potentially shedding light on patterns of environmental behavior across time and around the world.

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Exploring parental well-being : is childcare associated with parental well-being and what factors can enhance it (2011)

Recently, the idea that children can be detrimental to the well-being of their parents has gained popularity both amongst researchers and lay individuals. The previous research on parental well-being, however, has not provided any conclusive evidence in favour of this popular perception, and there is some research suggesting that parents might actually experience some benefits to their well-being as a result of having children. In addition, very little is known about the demographic and psychological factors that predict parental well-being. By overcoming various limitations of previous research designs, in the present research we examined whether taking care of children was associated with better cognitive and affective well-being outcomes. We further explored whether SES and child-centrism (i.e., the tendency of parents to put the well-being of their children before their own) were predictors of parental well-being. In a sample of 186 parents, we found that parents reported both more meaning and more positive affect when they were taking care of their children as compared to the rest of their day. We also showed that SES was negatively associated with the meaning parents experienced during childcare, a relationship that was mediated by the perceived opportunity cost of childcare. Finally, we demonstrated that when they were taking care of their children, more child-centric parents reported both more meaning and more positive affect than less child-centric parents. The implications of those findings for enhancing the well-being of parents as well as for improving future research on parental well-being are discussed.

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News Releases

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