You help someone and you feel good. But does following rules and adhering to one’s morals also elicit individual happiness? This is the fundamental question Dr. Andrew Miles, an assistant sociology professor at UTM, hopes to answer with his study “Living Right, Feeling Good: The Effects of Moral Action on Positive Emotion.” Miles, a recent recipient of the Connaught Fund New Researcher Award worth $35,000, sat down with The Medium to discuss his award-winning research.
Miles explains that he focuses his research on two things. “One of them is understanding human behaviour—why people do what they do—[and the second is] identities and values.”
After receiving the Connaught funding, Miles has started to “branch out into other questions about morality, like how people learn morality, where does it come from, what happens in our families as we’re growing up, or our schools, that lead us towards holding certain types of moralities over another.”
According to Miles, his area of research is unique because although many people have studied these topics, they “tended to focus on particular types of morality and not necessarily the diversity in different kinds of moral views people hold. Research up to this point has focused on helping people, and has found that if you help people, you feel good. They feel good, but you feel good too. And so, I’m building on that, and asking, what if you value things like being respectful to authority figures which is a very moral thing or something like sexual purity or loyalty to your family or your country. When you’re actively expressing those moral considerations in different ways does that also make you happy?”
When asked as to what led him to pursue this route, Miles attributes it to interest and the fact that “it needs to be done in terms of helping us understand how morality works.” Specific areas he hopes to gather information on include “harness[ing] the power of morality in different ways and whether people who do have these diverse moral commitments can benefit from them.” Miles hopes to investigate whether morality not only “guides behaviour, but helps [individuals] lead a richer and fuller life.”
To conduct his research, Miles explains a few methods he will utilize. While he considers self-report to be “a good indicator” since emotion is “highly internal to the individual” and there is no “incentive to lie,” he is also considering using “a facial action coding system, where [the researcher] actually watches [the participant’s] face and learns to analyze how their face is moving because people tend to show their emotions on their face.”
Concluding the interview, Miles remarks that he is appreciative of the award and the opportunities the funding will provide for him and his research team.
“It’s nice to have the money that it takes to actually test these hypotheses and to be able to pay the students I work with so they can feed themselves while [doing] the research. Money makes it all possible,” Miles says.