Category: Cross-cultural

Smartphone study reveals the world’s sleeping habits

Middle aged men get the least sleep, the research found

Researchers in the USA have used a smartphone app to see how people’s sleep habits vary around the world. More specifically they’ve investigated how much the timing of sunrise and sunset affect people’s sleep times or if social and cultural factors are more important. “Quantifying these social effects is the next frontier in sleep research,” they write in the paper in Science Advances.

The study involved the ENTRAIN smartphone app which helps people recover from jet lag by recommending ideal levels of light exposure based on a user’s typical sleep routine. Users have the option to make their information available for research. Olivia Walch and her colleagues at the University of Michigan began collecting data from the app in 2014 and the new analysis is based on information sent in by 8070 users around the world during the first year.

Overall the data showed that a later sunrise goes hand in hand with later waking-up times, and that a later sunset is associated with people going to bed later, just as predicted based on how light affects the suprachiasmatic nucleus – the bundle of neurons behind the eyes that controls our sleep cycle, also known as the circadian rhythm. But crucially, the link between sunset and bedtime was weaker than biological explanations would predict.

Put differently, the time we get up is strongly influenced by the timing of sunrise, but the time we go to bed is not as strongly influenced by sunset, suggesting other social and cultural factors are involved. Consistent with this account, most of the cross-cultural differences in sleep – for example, the Dutch reported the most sleep and Singaporeans the least – were explained by later bed times in the countries getting less sleep.

The difference between the countries with the most and least sleep wasn’t huge: just under 7.5 hours for Singapore and just over 8.1 hours for The Netherlands. But the researchers emphasised that even a 30-minutes difference is meaningful, especially when you consider that sleep debt can have a cumulative effect over time.

Users of the app from the UK averaged about 8 hours sleep (a healthy amount) with average wake time just after 7 am and average bed time just before 11.15.

The researchers were also able to use the smartphone data to compare sleep habits by age, gender, and time spent exposed to natural light. Age was the most important factor with older people tending to go to sleep earlier. There was also much less variability in the sleep times of older users, which could because of biological mechanisms that narrow the window of opportunity for when it’s easy for older people to fall asleep.

This age-related finding could have everyday relevance – “being careful about how much light affects your circadian clock could be more and more important to sleep as you get older,” the researchers said. If your body’s only willing to sleep between fairly limited hours, you’re best off listening to it and switching off that TV.

Meanwhile, women were found to get more sleep than men – 30 minutes more, on average – thanks both to going to bed earlier and waking up later. The gender difference was greatest in mid-life so that middle-age men are the demographic group getting the least sleep, on average.

In terms of exposure to outdoor, natural light, app users who had more of this tended to report going to sleep earlier and sleeping more, which is as you’d expect based on the effect of daylight hours on the brain’s circadian clock.

The researchers concluded that their results “point to the suppression of circadian signaling at bedtime as an important target for clinical sleep intervention; and suggest that age-related differences in the window during which sleep can occur are evidenced on a global scale”. Aside from these specific insights into sleep, the group also said their findings show the power of modern smartphone technologies as a research tool. “”This is a cool triumph of citizen science,” said co-author Daniel Forger in a press release.

A global quantification of “normal” sleep schedules using smarphone data

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

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Leaders smile in a way that says they’re feeling the emotions their followers crave

Trump’s grin may reflect the American
aspiration for high excitement

Deep into these highly-charged US presidential primaries, I’m taken by the colourful – sometimes cartoonish – diversity of personas on display. But despite their political and personality differences, new research in the journal Emotion suggests that if these American leadership aspirants are like other US leaders, they are all likely to have at least one thing in common – the way they smile will be coloured by the “ideal affect” of their culture: the high excitement of the American Way.

A large multinational research team led by Jeanne L. Tsai, pored over reams of photographs of leaders, and employed Paul Ekman’s Facial Action Coding System (FACS) to analyse their facial expressions. The researchers were smile-hunting, and they were specifically interested in two variants: calm smiles, which involve a wrinkling of the eyes and a widening of the mouth, and excited smiles, which involve extra muscle action to part the lips and open the jaw. They hypothesised that leaders of nations that prize high arousal positive emotions – as the US has been shown to do – should be keen to demonstrate these through excited smiles. Meanwhile, calm smiles should be preferred by Chinese and other cultures that consider lower arousal emotions to be more desirable. In short, they wanted to test the idea that political leaders manifest the feelings that voters aspire to experience themselves.

The researchers began by looking at close to 500 official, posed photographs of US and Chinese leaders, from government, business and university positions. No significant cultural differences were found for calm smile rates, but this is likely because the Chinese leaders overwhelmingly preferred serious expressions to smiles, and calm smiles were rare in both cultures. In contrast, American leaders not only smiled more often, but they showed an abundance of excited smiling – overall, there were six times as many of these smiles in the US photos compared with the Chinese.

But this finding might have nothing to do with people’s aspirations. Maybe Americans, including American leaders, are simply more excitable than the Chinese and people from other cultures. To investigate further, the researchers gathered data on a wider range of countries – more Eastern ones including Japan and South Korea, and more Western ones including Germany, the UK and also Mexico. They analysed thousands of photos of leaders drawn from these countries’ respective legislative assemblies, and they asked roughly 150 students per nation to rate emotion words such as “euphoric” and “quiet” in terms of how typical and ideal these feelings are in their culture. In addition, the researchers looked at differences between the countries in terms of their development, wealth and democracy.

Tsai and his colleagues found that nations that idealise high-energy positive emotions were more likely to have excited smiling leaders, even after controlling statistically for the influence of other national differences, including wealth or the typical levels of high arousal experienced in each country. A similar pattern held for calm smiles, which turned out to be most frequent in France and Germany where low arousal positive emotions are the most idealised.

These new findings are consistent with past research that’s shown differences in national culture manifest more strongly in the emotions that people consider ideal, rather than in the emotional states which make up our lives – our actual emotional experiences are more heavily coloured by our individual dispositions and by human commonalities.

Trump, Clinton, Sanders and Rubio may be tight-lipped and statesmanlike at times, but look out for that bared-teeth grin emanating from their official feeds and photo-shoots. Not because it reflects how these would-be leaders feel. But because it’s a signal of the emotion that the American people crave.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Tsai, J., Ang, J., Blevins, E., Goernandt, J., Fung, H., Jiang, D., Elliott, J., Kölzer, A., Uchida, Y., Lee, Y., Lin, Y., Zhang, X., Govindama, Y., & Haddouk, L. (2016). Leaders’ smiles reflect cultural differences in ideal affect. Emotion, 16 (2), 183-195 DOI: 10.1037/emo0000133

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

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This woman went hitchhiking in a hijab, for science

According to evolutionary psychology, just as animals and birds sing and dance and build houses to communicate their sexual interest to others, we humans do things like wear red, tell jokes, drive fancy cars and, well yes, we sing and dance too. A consistent finding in this area is that people’s attractiveness to others depends on whether their appearance communicates an interest in short or long-term sexual commitment, and moreover, whether this matches what a potential suitor is looking for. For example, there’s evidence that heterosexual women interested in casual sex are more likely to wear clothing that they think will attract men (not the most surprising research finding), and that this kind of clothing increases their attractiveness to men as a partner for casual sex, but not as a partner for marriage. The vast majority of this research has so far been conducted in the West, but a new field study out of Iran bucks the trend.

Farid Pazhoohi and Robert Burriss asked a 25-year-old woman to stand on the same busy, well-lit street in Shiraz, Iran on two consecutive Monday nights until 1000 cars has passed. The first week she wore relatively liberal clothing – a black hijab and tight black clothing that revealed her body shape. The second week she wore a black chador which conceals the entire head and body (except the face) beneath a black cloak. The idea was to see how many drivers would stop to offer the woman a lift. When the woman wore a chidor, only 39 drivers stopped for her, compared with 214 drivers who stopped when she wore the more liberal costume (all drivers who stopped were male). This nearly 7-fold increase in interest is similar to, but much larger than, the effect seen in French research in which male drivers were more likely to stop for a woman who was smiling, had large breasts, wore red or makeup.

The researchers said: “Our results extend the findings of previous studies in Europe and North America on male helping behavior and female attractiveness to Iran, a nation where courtship behav- ior and dress are constrained by stricter social mores and laws than apply in the West.”

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Pazhoohi, F., & Burriss, R. (2016). Hijab and “Hitchhiking”: A Field Study Evolutionary Psychological Science, 2 (1), 32-37 DOI: 10.1007/s40806-015-0033-5

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

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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.”

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

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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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 off 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”.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

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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Study uncovers dramatic cross-cultural differences in babies’ sitting ability

Paediatricians’ offices are often adorned with a developmental milestone chart for infants, and they always show the same “normal” age-typical progression, from sitting to crawling to walking. But these expectations (e.g. 25 per cent of infants achieve independent sitting by 5.5 months) are rather misleading because they’re derived solely from research on Western babies conducted back in the 1930s and 1940s. A new study, published recently in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, aimed to broaden our understanding of what constitutes typical sitting ability, by observing five-month-old infants from six different cultures: Argentina, Cameroon, Italy, Kenya, South Korea, and the United States.

Lana Karasik and her colleagues also departed from previous research by observing babies in their home environment rather than in a psychology lab. Specifically, a researcher local to each of the six cultures visited 12 mother and baby pairs in their homes for one hour. These sessions were taped and coded later based on where the babies were (i.e. in their mothers arms, on the ground, or on baby or adult furniture), their body position (sitting or lying etc) and how close their mother was to them. The mothers didn’t know that the study was about infant sitting ability.

Overall, one third of the infants were able to sit independently, defined as sitting without support for at least one second. But there was significant cross-cultural variation. For example, just two of the US infants displayed independent sitting and none of the Italian infants, compared with 8 of the Kenyan infants (67 per cent) and 11 of the Cameroonian infants (92 per cent). There was also a wide-range of sitting proficiency, in terms of how long infants sat independently in a single bout. For example, the shortest bout was 2.4 seconds, while the longest was 28 minutes (achieved by a Cameroonian baby).

Figure from Karasik et al, 2015.

These cultural differences were mirrored by differences in the opportunities the infants were given to sit independently. For example, infants from the US, Argentina, South Korea and Italy spent most of their time in places that provided support, such as a strapped into child’s furniture or in their mother’s arms. By contrast, infants in Kenya and Cameroon spent most of their sitting time on the floor, or on adult furniture where they had to learn to balance themselves. Mothers in Kenya and Cameroon also tended to spend more time further away from their babies. One Kenyan mother spent 13 minutes out of reach of her baby as he sat independently on adult furniture (by the way, he didn’t fall off the furniture, and neither did any other babies in this research).

It’s tempting to infer that the cultural parenting practices in Kenya and Cameroon may have encouraged some of the infants in those cultures to acquire more precocious sitting abilities (on average). But of course this was a purely observational study with small samples, and we can’t know whether the infants’ abilities influenced their parents’ behaviour or vice versa (in fact, it’s probably a bit of both). It’s also important to note, as the researchers do, that there was a huge amount of overlap in sitting ability across the cultures (e.g. some US infants sat independently longer than some Kenyan and Cameroonian infants), and there is also a large amount of variation within the cultures. Because of this, Karasik and her team say it is inappropriate to talk of babies in some cultures being uniformly more precocious than babies in others.

Infant sitting is a very important skill – it frees their hands to explore objects and interact more easily with adults. Given this, it seems amazing that most of what we know about the development of sitting ability is based on dated, lab-based research conducted almost exclusively in Western countries. “Had we not looked beyond onset ages [the simplistic idea that a child is either a sitter or not], ventured outside the laboratory, and studied samples of infants from six cultures across the globe,” the researchers said, “we would never have known that at five months, some infants can safely sit on high benches for extended periods without the support of adults nearby.”

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Karasik, L., Tamis-LeMonda, C., Adolph, K., & Bornstein, M. (2015). Places and Postures: A Cross-Cultural Comparison of Sitting in 5-Month-Olds Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 46 (8), 1023-1038 DOI: 10.1177/0022022115593803

further reading
Why do toddlers bother learning to walk?
For infants, walking is more than just another step in motor development
10 surprising things babies can do
How babies go sole searching
Toddlers don’t take the risk of entrapment seriously

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

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What can bereavement cards tell us about cultural differences in the expression of sympathy?

Sympathy towards the suffering is culture-dependent. People from “simpatico” cultures such as Brazil or Costa Rica are more likely to help people in need, as are people from economically poorer nations compared to wealthier counterparts. Now new research explores differences in how sympathy is expressed within two Western countries. Americans encourage sufferers to look for the light at the end of the tunnel, the study finds, while Germans are more comfortable gazing at its dark walls.

Birgit Koopmann-Holm and Jeanne Tsai began by looking at a mass representation of sympathy: the bereavement card. Their rating team analysed over 700 cards, finding that American ones used fewer negative words or images denoting death (e.g. shrivelled leaves), and a more upbeat message than their German equivalents.

Koopmann-Holm and Tsai suspected these differences would be because Americans are keener to avoid negative emotions. They surveyed US and German students, finding both experienced positive and negative emotions at a similar rate, but that the Americans wanted to avoid negative emotions such as fear, loneliness, or anger more than the German participants did.

Did this attitude affect bereavement card preference? It did. Participants were asked to choose one from several pairs of cards for a recently bereaved acquaintance. One card’s message was always positive (e.g. “let time heal your soul”) and the other negative (“A severe loss . . . take time to grieve”). Across the three trials, 72 per cent of Germans chose the negative card at least once, whereas only 37 per cent of Americans did; the Americans also rated the notion of giving such a negative card as significantly more discomforting. And critically, the more a participant wanted to avoid negative emotions, the more uncomfortable they were about the negative card.

So Americans avoid negative takes on bereavement because they would rather avoid negative emotions. Why? The researchers argue that “frontier values” originating in American pioneers portray overcoming adversity as a virtue, whereas wallowing in bad circumstances as more akin to a sin. Participants rated themselves on values such as success, intelligence, and ambition, and anti-frontier values such as protecting the environment. Those with a high frontier value score were keenest to avoid negative emotions.

The researchers suggest understanding these cultural differences helps us make sense of the contrasting positions of Sigmund Freud, an Austrian, and Aaron Beck, the American founder of CBT. Freud argued for the necessity of exploring negative emotions, whereas Beck’s focus is on mood repair. The new results may also aid our understanding of how these different types of treatments are received by people of different cultures – whether analysis is most suited to a Germanic temperament, for example. Lastly, the study speaks to the argument over whether the influential and recently revised American DSM-5 psychiatric manual should categorise bereavement-related depressive symptoms as pathological, with European doctors (and broadsheets) objecting that deep sadness can actually be healthy. As the poet Goethe wrote, epitomising the German sentiment: Let me pass the nights in tears / As long as I want to cry.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Koopmann-Holm, B., & Tsai, J. (2014). Focusing on the Negative: Cultural Differences in Expressions of Sympathy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology DOI: 10.1037/a0037684

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

How does the psychology of ownership differ between Western and Eastern cultures?

Michael Jackson’s glove sold for $350,000 at
a New York auction in 2009. In India,
celebrity possessions are not valued so highly. 

By guest blogger Bruce Hood.

Many of us are nostalgic for original, authentic experiences and prepared to pay for them. For example, not so long ago vinyl records were ubiquitous but nowadays they are considered collectibles, with some attracting a high price. Even with the most mundane record, there is still a tangible tactile experience to possessing these items that iTunes cannot re-create. It’s not just collectors. Most of us prefer to own and derive great pleasure from original items – a theme explored in Paul Bloom’s highly entertaining 2011 TED talk, “The Nature of Pleasure”.

The psychology of possessions reveals that many of us imbue important items with an integral property or essence that defines their true identity. The origin of such thinking can be traced to Plato’s notion of form, but it still operates today as the intuition that significant things are irreplaceable, even by identical duplicates that are physically indistinguishable from the original.

The concept of essentialism also helps explain our pre-occupation with our own stuff. This is the idea that every object is imbued with unique defining characteristics. One essentialist perspective is that our possessions represent who we are, and are even imbued by us in some way. Clearly some objects are entirely pragmatic and functional but others form part of an “extended self” (Belk, 1988; pdf). It may be our car, our clothes or the records we collect. A manifestation of the extended self is the endowment effect (pdf) whereby individuals value their personal possessions more than identical objects owned by others. However, the endowment effect and the extended self are not culturally universal. For example, a recent study (pdf) of the Tanzanian Hazda hunter-gather tribe revealed that they do not show the endowment effect, possibly because they have so few personal possessions.

Others want to emulate their heroes or make a connection with them in some tangible material form by owning their personal possessions. Essentialism explains why memorabilia collectors are not always motivated by financial rewards but rather with a passion to establish a tactile connection with the previous owners they admire. One plausible mechanism aligned with essentialism is positive contamination (pdf) – the notion that coming into direct contact with an item, such as a piece of clothing, can transfer some the previous owner’s essence.

We have been researching authenticity and essentialism in our lab using a duplication scenario. It’s based on a conjuring trick that convinces pre-schoolers that we have a machine that can duplicate objects. In our first study (pdf), we showed that children with sentimental attachment to a teddy bear would not accept an apparent duplicate toy. They also thought that original cups and spoons owned by Queen Elizabeth II were more valuable than identical duplicates even though they reasoned that duplicated silver objects were physically equivalent to originals. In other words, they appreciated the additional value conferred to memorabilia by celebrity association.

In our most recent study conducted via the MTurk platform, we asked Western (mostly US) and Eastern (mostly Indian) adults to estimate the value of four types of collectible: a work of art, a celebrity sweater, a dinosaur bone and moon rock. We then told them about the machine that can create an identical duplicate and asked them to value the copy. In two studies of over 800 adults we found the same basic pattern. Overall, both cultures think originals are worth more than copies, but the two cultures diverge on the celebrity clothing. Unlike Westerners, the Eastern adults saw the duplicate as not significantly different from the original. These results support the hypothesis that individualistic cultures in the West place a greater value on objects associated with unique persons, which explains why the valuation of certain authentic items may vary cross-culturally.

It’s not that Eastern cultures like India do not have celebrities – they are fanatical about their Bollywood stars – but the desire to collect celebrity possessions may not be such a cultural tradition in collectivist societies. Eastern cultures also exhibit essentialist contagion in their rituals and concerns about moral contamination (the caste system being the notable example) but essentialist concerns are primarily heightened for negative contamination as opposed to positive transfer, which is what is believed to be operating in celebrity clothing.

It is not clear how the desire for authenticity and essentialism will change as cultural differences increasingly disappear in a digitizing world of accessible duplication and downloads, but I expect that desire for originality will always be at the core of human psychology as a component of self-identity. We are the only species that really seems to care about originals.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Apicella, C., Azevedo, E., Fowler, J., & Christakis, N. (2014). Evolutionary Origins of the Endowment Effect: Evidence from Hunter-Gatherers SSRN Electronic Journal DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.2255650

Gjersoe, N., Newman, G., Chituc, V., & Hood, B. (2014). Individualism and the Extended-Self: Cross-Cultural Differences in the Valuation of Authentic Objects PLoS ONE, 9 (3) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0090787

–further reading–
The Psychology of Stuff and Things.

Post written by Bruce Hood (@ProfBruceHood) for the BPS Research Digest. Hood is University of Bristol Professor of Developmental Psychology in Society. He is elected Fellow of the BPS, Royal Institution, Society of Biology and the Association for Psychological Science. Also, President of the Psychology section of the British Science Association.

Back to the future – Psychologists investigate why some people see the future as being behind them

Speakers of English and many other languages refer to the future as being in front, and the past behind (e.g. “I look forward to seeing you”). This manner of thinking and speaking is so entrenched, we rarely pause to consider why we do it. One influential and intuitive explanation is that humans have an obvious front (the way our heads face), which combined with our tendency to think about time in terms of space, leads us to see ourselves moving forwards into the future, or the future coming towards us. A problem with this account is that there exist cultures and languages – such as the Andean language Aymara – that think and speak of the future as being behind them (and the past in front).

This leads to the proposition that perhaps people’s sense of the location of the past and future is somehow tied to their culture’s linguistic convention. Not so. In a new paper, Juanma de la Fuente and colleagues investigate Moroccan Arabic speakers – these people refer in their language to the future being in front of them (and the past behind), yet in their hand gestures they convey the opposite temporal arrangement. Clearly the ways we speak and think about time can dissociate. Still unanswered then is what leads people to differ in where they locate the past and future.

In the first of several experiments, de la Fuente’s team presented Moroccan Arabic speakers (most were students at the Abdelmalek Essaadi University in Tetouan) and Spanish speakers (students at the University of Granada) with a diagram featuring a human face with one box in front of it, and one behind.  The participants were told that an object had been picked up by the person in the diagram yesterday, or was to be picked up by them tomorrow. The participants’ task in each case was to indicate which box the object was located in.

This test confirmed that, despite speaking of the future as being in front of them, the majority of Moroccan Arabic speakers think of it as being behind. Around 85 per cent of them located tomorrow’s object behind the person in the diagram, compared with just over 10 per cent of the Spanish speakers. De la Fuente’s group think the reason has to do with temporal focus. Their theory – “the temporal-focus hypothesis” – is that people and cultures who focus more on the past tend to locate it in front.

This argument was supported by several further investigations. A “temporal focus questionnaire” (example items included “The young people must preserve tradition” and “Technological advances are good for society”) confirmed that Moroccan Arabic speakers display a greater focus on the past, as compared with Spanish speakers. Within a group of young and old Spanish speakers, meanwhile, the older participants had a greater focus on the past and they more often located the past in front (on a diagram). Among another group of Spanish speakers, those people who were more focused on the past also tended to locate the past in front. Finally, when the researchers primed Spanish speakers to think about their past (by having them write about their childhoods), they were subsequently far more likely to locate the past in front of them (and the future behind).

The researchers said they’d demonstrated “a previously unexplored cross-cultural difference in spatial conceptions of time” and that they’d validated “a new principle by which culture-specific habits of temporal thinking can arise: the temporal-focus hypothesis.”
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ResearchBlogging.orgde la Fuente J, Santiago J, Román A, Dumitrache C, & Casasanto D (2014). When You Think About It, Your Past Is in Front of You: How Culture Shapes Spatial Conceptions of Time. Psychological science PMID: 25052830

–further reading–
The surprising links between anger and time perception

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

The voices heard by people with schizophrenia are friendlier in India and Africa, than in the US

When a patient with schizophrenia hears voices in their head, is the experience shaped by the culture they live in? Tanya Luhrmann and her colleagues investigated by interviewing twenty people diagnosed with schizophrenia living in San Mateo, California; twenty in Accra, Ghana; and twenty others in Chennai India. There were similarities across cultures, including descriptions of good and bad voices, but also striking differences.

In San Mateo the interviewees talked about their condition as a brain disease, they used psychiatric diagnostic terms to describe themselves, and their experiences were almost overwhelmingly negative. Fourteen described hearing voices that told them to hurt others or themselves. Eight people didn’t know the identity of their voices and few described having a personal relationship with their voices.

By contrast, in Chennai, the interviewees frequently spoke of their relationships with their voices – that is, they heard the voices of relatives or friends, giving them advice or scolding them. These patients rarely used diagnostic terms, and rarely talked of voices instructing them to commit violence. Instead, distress, when it occurred, usually arose from their voices talking about sex. Nine interviewees described voices that were significantly good – in terms of being playful or entertaining.

In Accra, yet another picture emerged. Most of the interviewees here mentioned hearing God. This isn’t simply a case of this sample being more religious – the interview groups in all three locations were predominantly religious. Half the interviewees in Accra reported that their voice hearing was mostly or entirely positive. Others frequently emphasised the positive. Use of diagnostic labels was rare, as were incitements to violence by voices.

Luhrmann and her team said their most striking finding was that the experiences of voice hearing in the two non-Western samples were less harsh and more “relational” – that is, patients perceived their voices as other people, who could not be controlled. The researchers believe this difference is likely due to Western cultures emphasising independence and individuality – in which case heard voices are experienced as a violation – whereas African and Asian cultures emphasise how each person’s mind is interwoven with others. “We believe that these social expectations about minds and persons may shape the voice-hearing experience of those with serious psychotic disorder,” the researchers said.

These results need to be replicated with larger samples matched more precisely for illness severity, and with more tightly controlled measures (the current study was deliberately qualitative and exploratory). If replicated, the findings would imply the experience of hearing voices in schizophrenia is to some extent malleable, which could have exciting therapeutic implications. Indeed, it’s notable that the outcomes for patients with schizophrenia outside the West, especially in India, are known to be more positive – perhaps because of the way patients relate to their voices. “The harsh violent voices so common in the West may not be an inevitable feature of schizophrenia,” the researchers said.
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ResearchBlogging.orgLuhrmann, T., Padmavati, R., Tharoor, H., & Osei, A. (2014). Differences in voice-hearing experiences of people with psychosis in the USA, India and Ghana: interview-based study The British Journal of Psychiatry DOI: 10.1192/bjp.bp.113.139048

further reading
What’s it like to hear voices that aren’t there?
The same voices, heard differently?
Psychosis isn’t always pathological

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