Saturday, 6 February 2016

Link feast

Our editor's pick of this week's 10 best psychology and neuroscience links:

Why We Should Talk to The Humans
Transcript of an inspiring talk by Dan Gilbert on why it is important for psychologists to engage with the public.

How to Have a Good Day (video)
In this recent talk at the RSA in London, Caroline Webb (author of the new book How to Have a Good Day) shows us how to use findings from behavioural economics, psychology, and neuroscience to transform our approach to everyday working life.

Neuroscience and Free Will Are Rethinking Their Divorce
A new finding I covered for New York's Science of Us casts an old one in a very different, more free-will-friendly light.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts (new podcast)
Susan Cain, bestselling author of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" hosts this new ten-part weekly series on parenting and teaching introverted children.

We Need to Rewrite the Textbook on How to Teach Teachers
At his Neurobonkers blog Simon Oxenham has the low down on a new report that "describes a vast and severe failure of teacher-training courses and the textbooks that accompany them to convey evidence-based practices; while delivering unsupported anecdotal evidence and well-debunked myths in spades".

Neuro-hit or Neuro-myth?
A new resource from the Centre for Educational Neuroscience and supported by the Wellcome Trust.

Innovations In Mental Health (audio)
From Fitbits that monitor the sleep patterns of patients with schizophrenia to apps that help you manage your mood, tech is increasingly being seen as a viable alternative to traditional health and wellbeing techniques. Is it too good to be true, asks the latest edition of The Guardian's Tech Weekly podcast, presented by Nathalie Nahai.

What Little Babies See That You No Longer Can
Before developing perceptual constancy, three- to four-month-old babies have a striking ability to see image differences that are invisible to adults," writes  Susana Martinez-Conde at Scientific American. They lose this superior skill around the age of five months.

A Simple Way To Break A Bad Habit (video)
Newly released TED talk by Judson Brewer.

The Wonder and Fragility of Our Internal Lives
The Psychologist previews the new States of Mind Exhibition at the Wellcome Collection in London.

Post compiled by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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Friday, 5 February 2016

Cross-cultural studies of toddler self-awareness have been using an unfair test

There's a simple and fun way to test a toddler's self-awareness. You make a red mark (or place a red sticker) on their forehead discreetly, and then you see what happens when they look in a mirror. If they have a sense of self – that is, if they recognise themselves as a distinct entity in the world – then they will see that there is a strange red mark on their face and attempt to touch it or remove it.

This is called the "mirror self-recognition test" (it's used to test self-awareness in animals too) and by age two most kids "pass" the test, at least in Western countries. Several studies have suggested that the ability to pass the test is delayed, sometimes by years, in non-Western cultures, such as rural India and Cameroon, Fiji and Peru. But now a study in Developmental Science says this may be because the mirror test is culturally biased. Using a more physical and social self-awareness test, Josephine Ross at the University of Dundee and her colleagues actually find more precocious performance in a non-Western (Zambian) group of toddlers.

The researchers tested 33 mother-child pairs in Ikelenge, Zambia (a rural culture that emphasises the important of interdependence); 31 in Dundee, Scotland (a typical Western culture that emphasises independence and autonomy); and 22 in Istanbul, Turkey (a mixed culture that emphasises both autonomy and interdependence). The children were all aged between 15 and 18 months.

The researchers first filmed the mothers and their children playing and looked for differences in their parenting style: whether it was more "distal" involving more talk and less physical contact, which is typical of Western cultures, or more "proximal", with more physical contact, which is more typical of non-Western interdependent cultures. During play, the mothers put a red sticker on their child's head. Then the children were given the mirror self-recognition test. The Scottish children showed the highest pass rate (47 per cent) followed by the Turkish children (41 per cent) and the Zambian children (15 per cent), consistent with past research.

Next, the researchers used a different test of self-awareness that actually originates in the writings of the great developmental psychologist Jean Piaget. The children were asked to push a toy trolley toward their mother while they were standing on a mat that was attached to the bottom of the trolley. To succeed they must realise that their body is holding down the mat and step off it to push the trolley.

Whereas the mirror test is about recognising that the self has a distinct visual identity (a concept consistent with Western notions of an independent, autonomous self), the trolley test is more about realising that the self is a physical object like other objects. There is also a more social, collaborative element to the test because it involves pushing the trolley towards another person. The researchers reasoned that children raised in a more interdependent culture would excel at the task and that's exactly what they found. Fifty per cent of the Zambian children passed the test, compared with 57 per cent of the Turkish and 23 per cent of the Scottish.

The measures of parenting style that the researchers looked at did not explain much of the cultural variance in performance, but they said that might be because they looked at the wrong things, such as eye contact and physical proximity and future research will need to explore other factors, such as mothers' attitudes towards teaching their children interdependence versus autonomy.

The Zambian children were less familiar with mirrors than the other children, but they were given the chance to explore one before the self-awareness test, and anyway, past research has shown that performance on the test is not related to mirror experience. The Zambian children were also more precocious walkers than the other children, which you might think would explain their superior performance (compared with the Scottish kids) on the trolley test, but in fact performance on the trolley test was not related to walking ability. In short, the researchers favour the idea that the cultural differences on the two tests are due to the distinct perspectives on the self that are encouraged in the different cultures, rather than to familiarity with the test equipment or simple physical skill.

"Whatever the explanation for the cultural difference," the researchers said, "this study highlights the necessity of recognising that the measurement of self-awareness is inextricably bound with the context of our development. More care needs to be taken in measuring self-awareness if valid cross-cultural comparisons are to be made."


Ross, J., Yilmaz, M., Dale, R., Cassidy, R., Yildirim, I., & Suzanne Zeedyk, M. (2016). Cultural differences in self-recognition: the early development of autonomous and related selves? Developmental Science DOI: 10.1111/desc.12387

--further reading--
Cross-cultural reflections on the mirror self-recognition test
Study uncovers dramatic cross-cultural differences in babies' sitting ability

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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Thursday, 4 February 2016

People who prioritise time over money are happier

A lot of has been written about how focusing too much on materialistic ambitions, at the expense of relationships and experiences, can leave us miserable and unfulfilled. In a new paper published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, a team of psychologists at the University of British Columbia in Canada argue that there's another important distinction to be made – between how much we prioritise time versus money. Those who favour time tend to be happier, possibly because this frees them to enjoy pleasurable and meaningful activities, although this has yet to be established.

The researchers led by Ashley Whillans first devised a quick and simple way to measure this difference in people. They asked just over 100 students to say whether they prioritised having more time or having more money, and to help them appreciate the distinction the researchers presented them with vignettes of two people – one who prioritises time:
Tina (male names were used for male participants) values her time more than her money. She is willing to sacrifice her money to have more time. For example, Tina would rather work fewer hours and make less money, than work more hours and make more money. 
And one who prioritises money:
Maggie values her money more than her time. She is willing to sacrifice her time to have more money. For example, Maggie would rather work more hours and make more money, than work fewer hours and have more time.
The students answered this question twice, three months apart and their two choices were highly consistent, which supports the idea that people's prioritisation of time versus money is a stable trait.

In several further studies involving thousands more students and adult members of the general public in Canada and the US, Whillans and her colleagues showed that people's answer to this one simple question correlated with their choices over various fictional scenarios, such as: whether they wanted to apply for a hypothetical higher salary/longer hours job or a lower salary/shorter hours alternative; whether they'd prefer a more expensive apartment with a shorter commute, or a cheaper alternative (to save money) and make a longer commute; and whether they actually chose a smaller cash reward for taking part in the study, versus a larger value reward token toward a time-saving service (such as a cleaner).

What's more, across the studies, people who said they prioritised time tended to report being happier. This was true based on various ways of measuring happiness and wellbeing, and the association held even after holding constant many other factors, such as people's salary, education, hours of work and age and gender. The researchers also measured people's materialism and the association between happiness and favouring time over money remained after taking this into account.

The researchers said that this relationship between prioritising time and being happier was "small but robust" – about half the size of the impact on happiness of things like being married and having more wealth. In an example of exemplary scholarship, the researchers make clear every factor they measured, every participant who was excluded and why, and the recruitment stopping rule for each study (i.e. how it was decided when to stop recruiting more participants). And perhaps most important, all their data is freely accessible via the Open Science initiative.

As so often, it's worth remembering that this data was only recorded at a single point in the lives of the participants, so it's not yet been established that having more a time-centric orientation versus money-centric actually causes greater happiness – as the researchers acknowledge, it's possible that being happier allows people to see the value in saving time to do fun things. As well as longitudinal research (that follows people's priorities and happiness over time), future studies could also establish how people's time vs. money priorities change in response to important life events such as having children or retirement (the current data suggest that older people tend to favour time), and whether it's possible to deliberately change one's orientation.

"Although causality cannot be inferred," the researchers concluded, "these data point to the possibility that valuing time over money is a stable preference that may provide one path to greater happiness."


Whillans, A., Weidman, A., & Dunn, E. (2016). Valuing Time Over Money Is Associated With Greater Happiness Social Psychological and Personality Science DOI: 10.1177/1948550615623842

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Parenthood seems to have an opposite effect on how men and women perceive babies' emotions

In our part of the world, a growing proportion of fathers are rolling up their sleeves and getting involved in early child care. This has prompted increased interest from psychologists in any similarities or differences in the way that mothers and fathers interact with their children. One finding is that fathers tend to engage in more physical play, whereas mothers spend more time playing with toys and interacting socially. A new study in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology takes a fresh approach, asking whether mothers and fathers perceive babies' emotional expressions differently. The results, while tentative, suggest that parenthood may lead women to become more sensitive to babies' emotions, while men actually become less sensitive.

Christine Parsons at the University of Oxford and her colleagues asked 110 women and men to look at and rate 50 images of 10 babies expressing strongly positive and negative emotions, muted positive and negative emotions, or exhibiting a neutral expression. There were 29 mothers (average age 29), 26 fathers (average age 28), and 29 women who weren't mothers (average age 26), and 26 men who weren't fathers (average age 28). The parents all had infants aged less than 18 months. The participants rated the babies' emotions by using a vertical sliding scale from "very positive" to "very negative".

Men and women who weren't parents didn't differ in the way that they rated the babies' emotions. In contrast, among the parents, mothers tended to rate the babies' positive emotions more positively and their strongest negative emotions more negatively, compared with the fathers. Moreover, mothers tended to give more extreme ratings to the babies' emotions than women who weren't mothers, whereas fathers showed a tendency to rate the babies' emotions as less intense than men who weren't fathers.

Taken together, the researchers said this suggests that parenthood affects women's and men's perceptions of infant emotions differently: "It may be that motherhood increases women's perception of the intensity of emotion in infant faces, whereas fatherhood decreases men's perception," they said. These results are preliminary and there's a need now for longitudinal research that follows the same participants over time; the current study also doesn't speak to why this gender difference emerges after parenthood. However, the researchers speculated that "If mothers and fathers [really do] perceive the same infant emotional expressions in different ways, this may contribute to the sex differences in interaction styles that are frequently observed."


Parsons, C., Young, K., Jegindoe Elmholdt, E., Stein, A., & Kringelbach, M. (2016). Interpreting infant emotional expressions: parenthood has differential effects on men and women The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1-19 DOI: 10.1080/17470218.2016.1141967

--further reading--
Men are as motivated by cute baby faces as women
How becoming a father changes your brain
10 surprising things babies can do

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Scientific evidence that counting to 10 helps control anger (sometimes)

It's something we're taught from a young age – when you're about to go into a rage, force yourself to count to ten and hopefully the storm will pass. This may sound like common sense, but without testing the method scientifically, how do we know if and when it really works? For example, while the counting delay could give you a chance to get a grip of your aggressive urges, it's equally plausible that it could give you time to grow even angrier about whatever triggered your displeasure in the first place.

For a new study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Jeffrey Osgood and Mark Muraven at the State University of New York have put a version of the count-to-ten method to the test and they've found that it really can help reduce aggression, but only in certain circumstances.

They recruited 312 students to take part in what they were told was a test of virtual teamwork. First, the researchers asked half the participants to complete a task designed to reduce their levels of self-control (they had to write a stream-of-consciousness essay while avoiding thinking about a white bear). The other participants completed some maths problems, which does not tax self-control so much.

Next, each participant wrote an essay about their favourite childhood TV show and then they exchanged essays with what they thought was their task partner who was working elsewhere on another computer. In fact, this was a ruse and was simply a chance for the researchers to provoke the participants with some damning essay feedback, ostensibly from their partner.  He/she wrote of their essay: "This is one of the dumbest essays that I have ever read. Only an idiot would say something like that, I can't believe you are even in college."

Suitably provoked, each participant was then given the chance to decide how many minutes their partner had to play an unpleasant card memorisation game in which wrong answers were punishable by a noise-blast – choosing a longer amount of time was taken as a sign of greater anger and increased aggression.  In two further twists, some of the participants had been told that their partner would subsequently be making the same decision for them – in other words, he or she would have the chance to retaliate. Also, some of the participants chose their partner's fate immediately after receiving the rude essay feedback, while others were forced to wait around 30 seconds, thus mimicking the delay effects of counting to ten.

As expected, the participants who'd had their self-control depleted tended to decide their partner's fate more quickly (when there was no forced delay) and they tended to be more aggressive in their decisions, although this wasn't statistically significant. Focusing on the participants with reduced self-control, the results showed that when there were consequences (i.e. their partner could retaliate), the forced delay made them less aggressive – that is, they chose for their partner to suffer 3.9 minutes of the unpleasant noise-blast task on average, compared with 6.6 minutes when their reaction was not delayed. Conversely, when their anger would have no immediate consequences for themselves, the forced delay actually increased these participants' aggression (they chose 8 minutes suffering for their partner, compared with 5.7 minutes without a delay).

In summary, these results suggests that counting to ten could help stop you from lashing out too harshly when there are obvious consequences for your anger, presumably because the delay gives you time to take these consequences into account before choosing how to act. Backing this interpretation, a number memorisation task during the forced delay removed the calming effect of the delay for the depleted participants who knew their partner could retaliate, probably because they now couldn't use the time to think about the consequences of their choices. Finally, when there are no obvious consequences to an outburst, the results suggest that counting to ten could make you lash out even more, likely because in this kind of situation the delay just gives you more time to stew over whatever provoked you in the first place.


Osgood, J., & Muraven, M. (2016). Does counting to ten increase or decrease aggression? The role of state self-control (ego-depletion) and consequences Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 46 (2), 105-113 DOI: 10.1111/jasp.12334

--further reading--
Beat anger by imagining you're a fly on the wall
How anger can make us more rational

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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Monday, 1 February 2016

Working memory training could help beat anxiety

One thing anxiety does is to upset your brain's balance between focus and vigilance. Your control over what you pay attention to is sacrificed at the expense of worrisome thoughts and a rapid response to any potential danger.

If this account is true, basic attention training should help, putting you back in charge of your own mind. A key component of attentional control is working memory – our ability to juggle task-relevant information in mind over short-periods of time. In a new paper in Biological Psychology, a team led by Nazanin Derakshan at Birkbeck, University of London, has tested whether computer-based working memory training can reduce anxiety.

The training involved a kind of task that often features in "brain training" games where it's marketed as a way to become cleverer or more successful. In psychology it's known as the established dual n-back task, and the researchers used a version that got progressively harder as participants improved (try it online).

Specifically, 13 young, anxious student participants had to listen to streams of letters and simultaneously look at a changing grid of squares, and press a key whenever the current letter or highlighted square was the same as the one that occurred a certain number of items earlier in the stream. The difficulty of the task was intensified by requiring the participant to compare the current square and letter with items further back. They completed 15 days of 30-minutes/day of this training. A control group of 13 anxious students spent the same time on an easy version of the task that didn't vary in difficulty as they improved, so it was unlikely to boost their working memory abilities.

Before and after the training, all the students completed a series of measures of their anxiety and their ability to perform under stress.

The working memory training group showed improvements (not only on the n-back task) but also in their performance during "safe" and stressful trials of what's known as the flanker task – this involves responding to the direction of a target arrow while ignoring distracter arrows pointing the other way. During stressful trials the researchers blasted the participants with white noise. The control group only showed improvements during the safe trials, not the more difficult stressful trials.

The training group, but not the control group, also showed changes to their brain waves (recorded via electroencephalography) – specifically they exhibited a reduced ratio of theta to beta frequency waves while they were resting. This is a neural sign that they were more relaxed. In the training group, those who showed the biggest improvements in working memory performance also showed greater reductions in their their self-reported anxiety symptoms post-training. There was one null result – on an eye movement test (a version of the "anti-saccade task"), the training group did not show any post-training benefits compared with the control group.

Caution is in order because there were so few participants and we don't know how long the apparent benefits of working memory training will last. The researchers characterise their results as a "proof of principle", and it's certainly exciting to think that a simple computerised task could help people become less anxious, simply by improving their basic memory skills.

Writing on her university's research blog, Professor Derakshan says "the implications of improving attentional control are enormous in education and clinical science. Targeting and training working memory ... holds the potential to protect against longer term under-achievement in anxious pupils. It can also protect against the development of clinical anxiety which can be debilitative to the individual."


Sari, B., Koster, E., Pourtois, G., & Derakshan, N. (2016). Training working memory to improve attentional control in anxiety: A proof-of-principle study using behavioral and electrophysiological measures Biological Psychology DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2015.09.008

--further reading--
Try a version of the dual n-back task (there are lots more out there).
Attention training can wire your brain to be less scaredy-cat

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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Saturday, 30 January 2016

Link feast

Our editor's pick of this week's 10 best psychology and neuroscience links:

Why Are Some People Habitually Late?
There's no single root cause, but over-politeness, optimism, multitasking, and a range of other factors can contribute, writes Rick Paulas at the Pacific Standard.

The Countries Where People Are the Most Emotionally Complex
Why cultures that value interdependence, like Japan, win at being deep. Julie Beck reports for The Atlantic.

The Logic Behind Conspiracy Theories
Who's “smugger,” really— the theorists or the anti-theorists? The antis should not be so quick to assert their superiority says this LA Times op-ed.

A Mother's Love
Kate Johnstone at The Psychologist reviews "Room" the new film version of the best-selling novel by Emma Donoghue.

Amy Cuddy with Susan Cain: On Presence and Power (video)
Psychologist and TED-talk star Amy Cuddy in conversation with Susan Cain (author of Quiet) about her new book Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges.

“Cat-gras Delusion” – The Man Who Saw His Cat As An Impostor
NeuroSkeptic describes the case of a man who believed that his cat was in fact a different cat.

The Con Man Who Pulled Off History's Most Audacious Scam
BBC Future publishes an excerpt from Maria Konnikova's new book on the psychology of con artists and being conned.

The Problem with Human Head Transplants
Contrary to the impression given by some excitable media reports, human head transplants are not yet a realistic possibility, argues Andrew Jackson at The Conversation.

How Unhealthy Food Pulls You Toward It
It has an almost ghostly attraction, according to a new study I covered for New York's Science of Us.

Computer Beats "Go" Champion for First Time
Annie Sneed at Scientific American has the story on a new milestone for Artificial Intelligence.
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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Friday, 29 January 2016

How do people with Dark Triad personality traits fare at speed dating?

People who score highly in the Dark Triad personality traits – narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism – are vain, selfish, callous and manipulative. They're not the kind of people you want to spend much time with. This raises the obvious question – to put it bluntly, why over evolutionary timescales haven't these people died out? One possibility is that their traits actually confer short-term advantages in the mating game. Dark Triad people are obnoxious once you get to know them, sure, but perhaps they can be alluring at first, what with their swagger and smooth talking.

To test this, Emanuel Jauk and his colleagues had 46 women and 44 men (average age 23; all heterosexual) fill out personality questionnaires, including measures of the Dark Triad traits, and then take part in speed dating sessions, such that every man and woman in the study enjoyed a three-minute date with each other. The participants filled out score cards for each person they met, including how attractive a prospect they found them for different relationships (friendship, one-night-stand, "friend with benefits" and long-term romance), and whether they'd like to see them again.

The findings, published recently in the European Journal of Personality, show that men who scored higher in narcissism were rated by women as more appealing for short-term trysts and longer-term commitment, but not as friends. Women were also more likely to say they'd like to see these men again. Scores in the other two Dark Triad traits did not make any difference to the men's success.

Similar to the men, women who scored higher in narcissism also attracted more favourable ratings from their dating partners, for short and long-term relationships, but not for friendships. For women (but not men) scoring higher in psychopathy also went hand-in-hand with receiving more favourable ratings as a potential one-night stand.

Intriguingly, the reasons for male and female narcissists' allure in speed dating seemed to be different. For men, it was entirely explained by extraversion. Male narcissists tended to score higher in extraversion, and once the appealing influence of extraversion was factored out, narcissism offered nothing more. By contrast, for women, narcissism correlated with physical attractiveness (as rated by four judges who didn't take part in the dating), and once the appealing influence of physical attractiveness was controlled for, narcissism added nothing. Ditto for women's psychopathy – the appeal was all down to the fact that psychopathy correlated with physical attractiveness.

In short, it seems that narcissism (for men and women) and psychopathy (for women) make people more attractive in the mating game, at least in the context of speed dating among young people, which helps explain the advantage that these traits provide. But crucially, the reasons for this are not direct, but have to do with other characteristics that correlate with narcissism and psychopathy, rather than with the traits directly. This raises some interesting questions for future research, such as why are extraversion and narcissism linked in men, and why are attractiveness and narcissism (and psychopathy) linked in women? For instance, does a woman's attractiveness make it more likely that she'll develop narcissistic traits, or do her narcissistic traits make it more likely that she'll put more effort into her appearance?


Jauk, E., Neubauer, A., Mairunteregger, T., Pemp, S., Sieber, K., & Rauthmann, J. (2016). How Alluring Are Dark Personalities? The Dark Triad and Attractiveness in Speed Dating European Journal of Personality DOI: 10.1002/per.2040

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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Thursday, 28 January 2016

There are at least 216 foreign words for positive emotional states and concepts that we don't have in English

One criticism levelled at positive psychology is that it takes an overly Western-centric view of the lighter side of human experience. Addressing that problem, Tim Lomas at the University of East London has begun a deep investigation into all the non-English words for positive emotions and concepts that don't have a direct translation in English.

Publishing his initial findings in the The Journal of Positive Psychology, Lomas' hope is not only that we might learn more about the positive psychology of other cultures, but that hearing of these words might enrich our own emotional lives. Of course there is a long-running debate about how much words influence our thoughts and emotions. Few people these days would advocate the idea that you can't feel an emotion if you don't have a word for it. But Lomas argues that at a minimum, if you don't have a way of identifying a specific emotion or feeling, it "becomes just another unconceptualised ripple in the ongoing flux of subjective experience."

Lomas' method was to trawl websites devoted to "untranslatable words" (i.e. words that don't have a single corresponding word in English), then to do some googling and finally to consult colleagues and students. This way he ended up with a list of 216 untranslatable words for positive emotional states and concepts. To find approximate English definitions of the words he used online dictionaries and academic references. Here are some examples of the untranslatable positive words that Lomas has organised into three main categories:

Words relating to feelings, including the subcategories of positive and complex feelings (definitions are taken from Lomas' paper):

Gula – Spanish for the desire to eat simply for the taste
Sobremesa – Spanish for when the food has finished but the conversation is still flowing
Mbukimvuki – Bantu for "to shuck of one's clothes in order to dance"
Schnapsidee – German for coming up with an ingenious plan when drunk
Volta – Greek for leisurely strolling the streets
Gokotta – Swedish for waking up early to listen to bird song
Suaimhneas croi – Gaelic for the happiness that comes from finishing a task
Iktsuarpok – Inuit for the anticipation felt when waiting for someone
Vacilando – Greek for the idea of wandering, where the act of travelling is more important than the destination
Gumusservi – Turkish for the glimmer that moonlight makes on water

Words relating to relationships, including the subcategories of intimacy and more general prosociality:

Nakama – Japanese for friends who one considers like family
Kanyininpa – Aboriginal Pintupi for a relationship between holder and held, akin to the deep nurturing feelings experienced by a parent for their child
Gigil – Philippine Tagalog for the irresistible urge to pinch or squeeze someone because you love them so much
Kilig – Tagalog for the butterflies in the stomach you get when interacting with someone you find attractive
Sarang – Korean for when you wish to be with someone until death
Myotahapea – Finnish for vicarious embarrassment
Mudita – Sanskrit for revelling in someone else's joy
Karma – the well known Buddhist term for when ethical actions lead to future positive states
Firgun – Hebrew for saying nice things to someone simply to make them feel good
Asabiyyah – Arabic for a sense of community spirit

Words relating to character, including the subcategories of resources and spirituality:

Sitzfleisch – German for the ability to persevere through hard or boring tasks (literally "sit meat")
Baraka – Arabic for a gift of spiritual energy that can be passed from one person to another
Jugaad – Hindi for the ability to get by or make do
Desenrascanco – Portuguese for the ability to artfully disentangle oneself from a troublesome situation
Sprezzatura – Italian for when all art and effort are concealed beneath a "studied carelessness"
Pihentagyu – Hungarian for quick witted people who come up with sophisticated jokes and solutions (literally "with a relaxed brain")
Kao pu – Chinese for someone who is reliable and responsible and gets things done without causing problems for others
Prajna – Sanskrit for intellectual wisdom and experiential insight
Wu Wei – Chinese for "do nothing" (literally) but meaning that one's actions are entirely natural and effortless [check out the recent Psychologist magazine article on this concept]
Bodhi – Sanskrit for when one has gained complete insight into nature

Lomas is continually updating his list online and he welcomes any suggestions. He says compiling the list is just the start of this project – as a next step he suggests that each word now deserves its own paper "explicating and analysing them in rich detail".


Lomas, T. (2016). Towards a positive cross-cultural lexicography: Enriching our emotional landscape through 216 ‘untranslatable’ words pertaining to well-being The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1-13 DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2015.1127993

--further reading--
How language reflects the balance of good and bad in the world
How we see half the world through the prism of language

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Men who stick up for women's rights are subjected to more sexual harassment at work

Upon mention of sexual harassment at work, it's natural to think immediately of women as the targets, but actually men experience harassment too. And it's on the increase, at least in the US. In 2013, men filed 17.6 per cent of the thousands of sexual harassment charges recorded in the country that year (up from 16.1 per cent in 2011).

A new study in Psychology of Men and Masculinity surveyed 326 men in the US (most were white, 25 were gay or bisexual) about their experiences of sexual harassment at work. They had careers in a wide range of fields from IT to law, and their average age was 32. The study doesn't provide us with specific rates of harassment as such because the men were asked to score their experiences of different forms of harassment on a 5-point scale from 1=never to 5=very often. The average score for "gender harassment" (this is more often perpetrated by men against men in the form of being exposed to sexual jokes and stories, but also includes hearing or receiving derogatory remarks about men) was 1.27, and for "sexual advance harassment" (which includes inappropriate and unwanted touching or other sexual advances) was 1.14.

A key finding was that men who said they engaged in more forms of feminist activism – for example, they attended meetings or signed a petition – also tended to report experiencing more sexual harassment, of both types. Kathryn Holland and her colleagues said this is consistent with the idea men who challenge the existing gendered hierarchy at work end up getting punished (just as women do) – a phenomenon they refer to as "gender policing". If it sounds strange to think of women punishing men who challenge men's unfair dominance at work, remember that past research has shown that some women cope with a macho work culture by adapting their own identities, in some cases becoming "Queen Bees". For these women, and others who find a way to thrive in a masculinised environment, any challenge to the status quo can be seen as a threat.

Other findings to emerge from the survey: men's sexuality was not related to how much harassment they reported; men's harassment scores were (not surprisingly) higher in organisations that had a cultural tolerance of harassment; and men who reported experiencing more harassment also reported lower well-being and job satisfaction. Intriguingly, however, on the last point, men who engaged in more feminist activism seemed to be protected against the ill effect of being harassed – perhaps, the researchers surmised, this is because they are less likely to blame themselves and are more aware of problematic gender-based beliefs in society.

The researchers said their study "helped advance our understanding of sexual harassment of men in the workplace". But a major caveat to the findings is that it's possible men who spend more time standing up for women's rights report being harassed more themselves, not because they really are, but simply because they are more sensitive to and attuned to instances of sexual harassment, whether directed at colleagues or themselves. This would undermine the claim that they are being punished for their feminist activism.


Holland, K., Rabelo, V., Gustafson, A., Seabrook, R., & Cortina, L. (2016). Sexual harassment against men: Examining the roles of feminist activism, sexuality, and organizational context. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 17 (1), 17-29 DOI: 10.1037/a0039151

--further reading--
A misogynistic workplace is bad for male employees too
Queen Bees are the consequence not the cause of sexist work-places
Is sexism in science really over?
Can this innovative intervention reduce sexism among male undergraduates?
Psychology of Men special issue of The Psychologist

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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