Happiness can deter crime, a new study finds

August 22, 2011

Happy adolescents report less involvement in crime and drug use than other youth, a new UC Davis study finds.

The paper, "Get Happy! Positive Emotion, Depression and Juvenile Crime," is co-authored by Bill McCarthy, a UC Davis sociology professor, and Teresa Casey, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis, and will be presented today at the Annual Meeting in Las Vegas.

"Our results suggest that the emphasis placed on and well-being by positive psychologists and others is warranted," McCarthy said. "In addition to their other benefits, programs and policies that increase childhood and adolescent happiness may have a notable effect on deterring nonviolent crime and drug use."

The authors used 1995 and 1996 data from nearly 15,000 seventh- to ninth-grade students in the federally funded National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, the largest, most comprehensive survey of ever undertaken.

They found that about 29 percent of the youth surveyed reported having committed at least one criminal offense, and 18 percent said that they had used at least one . The researchers then correlated these reports with self-assessments of emotional well-being.

Consequences of happiness are rarely examined by , and no previous studies have investigated its association with juvenile crime, the authors said.

Many explanations of adolescents' decisions about crime focus either on reflective thought that discourages offending, or — such as anger or rage — that contribute to it.

McCarthy and Casey argue that positive emotions also have a role. "We hypothesize that the benefits of happiness — from strong bonds with others, a positive self-image and the development of socially valued cognitive and behavioral skills — reinforce a decision-making approach that is informed by positive emotions," they write in their study.

Their research finds that happier adolescents were less likely to report involvement in crime or drug use. Adolescents with minor, or nonclinical, depression had significantly higher odds of engaging in such activities.

The study also found that changes in emotions over time matter.

Adolescents who experienced a decrease in their level of happiness or an increase in the degree of their depression over a one-year period had higher odds of being involved in and of using drugs.

Most adolescents experience both happiness and depression, and the study finds that the relative intensity of these emotions is also important. The odds of were notably lower for youth who reported that they were more often happy than depressed, and were substantially higher for those who indicated that they were more depressed than happy.

Explore further: Links found between happiness and health

Related Stories

Links found between happiness and health

December 14, 2005

Carnegie Mellon University scientists say there's growing evidence positive emotions such as happiness are linked with good health and increased longevity.

Teens in Love Do Less Crime

January 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Teenagers in love may be less likely to get mixed up in crime and substance abuse, according to new UC Davis research. But while romantic love seems to help keep teens law-abiding, casual sex can mean trouble.

Recommended for you

Ancient genome from Africa sequenced for the first time

October 8, 2015

The first ancient human genome from Africa to be sequenced has revealed that a wave of migration back into Africa from Western Eurasia around 3,000 years ago was up to twice as significant as previously thought, and affected ...

Rare braincase provides insight into dinosaur brain

October 8, 2015

Experts have described one of the most complete sauropod dinosaur braincases ever found in Europe. The find could help scientists uncover some of the mysteries of how dinosaur brains operated, including their intellectual ...

How much for that Nobel prize in the window?

October 3, 2015

No need to make peace in the Middle East, resolve one of science's great mysteries or pen a masterpiece: the easiest way to get yourself a Nobel prize may be to buy one.

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

5 / 5 (2) Aug 22, 2011
Given the crime rate in the U.S. Americans must be very, very unhappy.

Who can blame them after 30 years of Republican borrow and spend treason has left them bankrupt as a nation.
not rated yet Aug 22, 2011
This is just sad. What a waste of time education was for these idiots. I can just make my kids happy and they won't do drugs and commit crimes. Why didn't I think of that???

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.