Tag: psychology

When Does Hungry Become Hangry?


You’re ready to blow your top – but how much is due to your internal hunger and how much to external annoyances? (Credit: Shutterstock)

Have you ever been grumpy, only to realize that you’re hungry?

Many people feel more irritable, annoyed, or negative when hungry – an experience colloquially called being “hangry.” The idea that hunger affects our feelings and behaviors is widespread – from advertisements to memes and merchandise. But surprisingly little research investigates how feeling hungry transforms into feeling hangry. Read More

MORE ABOUT: psychology

From Mouth to Mind: How Language Governs Our Perceptions of Gender

By Cody Cottier | June 1, 2018 11:58 am
(Credit: pathdoc/Shutterstock)

(Credit: pathdoc/Shutterstock)

Take a second and try to talk about a person without mentioning gender.

If English is your native tongue, odds are you failed. But if you had been born in Indonesia, you might have succeeded.

Lera Boroditsky, who studies language and cognition at the University of California, San Diego, recalled a conversation with a colleague from the Southeast Asian country. He was asking her about someone she knew back in the states, and gender didn’t pop up until question 21.

“He didn’t seem to think it was that important,” she said.

In some cultures, maleness and femaleness aren’t the prominent traits they are in the U.S. In yet others, they’re even more salient.

How languages deal with gender can be divided into three classes: Some languages, like English, are natural gender languages. They are characterized by pronouns, and some nouns, denoting the gender of people and animals.

Others, like the Romance languages, are grammatically gendered. They place all nouns into gender categories, which don’t necessarily align with natural gender. Think “la casa” (feminine) and “el baño” (masculine). There is little consistency in the genders of words across languages, though. In some, including Spanish, the word for “manliness” is even feminine.

The third kind of language — which includes Indonesian, Finnish and Mandarin — is genderless. These still have words for man and woman, and for other words that designate gender, like “mother,” but they have no pronouns or linguistic signals for male and female, in living beings or objects.

Words Influence Thoughts

The way we perceive gender seems to depend on the way it’s presented to us as we’re learning. And our language is a big part of that. A growing body of research suggests that the language we speak, including its gender features, shapes the way we think and act.

In one study, Boroditsky asked speakers of German and Spanish to describe a bridge. The word is feminine in the former language, masculine in the latter. German speakers used adjectives like beautiful, elegant and fragile, while Spanish speakers viewed bridges as towering, dangerous and strong.

Other study participants, when asked to speak like different days of the week, chose masculine or feminine voices in accordance with the gender of the words for those days.

To Boroditsky and many scientists, these experiments and others like them provide solid evidence for a connection between the language and cognition. If a person grows up noting gender at every word, those habits of speech eventually bind them to a perception of the world as a realm with distinct male and female entities, with strong stereotypes for each.

“I think we tend to really believe the structures in our language,” Boroditsky said. “We believe they really reflect reality.”

(Credit: ricochet64/Shutterstock)

(Credit: ricochet64/Shutterstock)

Over the centuries, some philosophers even praised their mother (why not father?) tongues for capturing the “true” genders of objects. But there’s no evidence for that. Monolingual speakers are prone to accept their language as the truth, Boroditsky said, but people who have been exposed to another language “no longer have that illusion.”

No feature of a language is necessarily permanent. For example, Old English was grammatically gendered until partway through the middle ages, when changes in the way people spoke eventually eroded the vocal distinctions between male and female.

Boroditsky said Indo-European — which gave rise to English and scores of other languages in Europe, the Middle East and India — is thought to have developed gender because words associated with things that were biologically male or female tended to have endings that lined up with their respective gender, and other words with those endings got lumped in with them. Seen in this light, the gendering or de-gendering of language is not so much a deliberate process as it is a gradual evolution of sounds. Often, speakers don’t even notice the subtle shifts in the inflection of their speech over time, Boroditsky said.

But more recently, some countries are seeing efforts to intentionally alter language. Sweden did away with its formal pronouns decades ago to de-emphasize class distinctions, and some people in France are pushing for gender-neutral language. As it stands, many nouns for professions in French have only a masculine form. Proponents of inclusive writing believe this puts women at a disadvantage, and they hope to either introduce feminine versions of professional nouns, or create a neutral pronoun.

When Gendered Language Harms

Feminists have long argued that gendered language contributes to sexism, and some research supports this. One study found that speakers of Spanish and German, both gendered, expressed more sexist attitudes than English speakers.

Penelope Eckert, a professor of linguistics at Stanford University, said languages are largely a reflection of ideology.

For example, every time we use the masculine pronoun as all-encompassing (“if a person feels ill, he should call a doctor”), or mankind to mean all humans, it is a sign of our societal values and serves to reinforce them. Even phrases that include men and women (“good evening, ladies and gentlemen”) assume a binary gender system.

“You get those kinds of locutions all over the place,” Eckert said, “and they just sort of unconsciously affect the way we think about gender.”

Even the term “natural gender” in reference to languages like English is problematic, Eckert argues, because gender is a social construct rather than an inherent quality.

And the way we talk may affect more than our thoughts. Numerous studies have found higher gender inequality in countries with gendered languages, meaning our speech may indirectly impact the lives of women in just about every conceivable way.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t benefits to sorting words by gender. It allows for more complexity in language, Boroditsky says, and more efficient mental processing. Because every noun fits into a category, and every verb and adjective that modifies it is marked accordingly, it’s easier to keep track of the relationships between words.

And though the practice of creating linguistic classifications is widespread, the idea that they must align with biological sex isn’t universal. Some languages divide their nouns into “animate” and “inanimate” categories, and others have more bizarre distinctions. One word group in the Australian Aboriginal language Dyirbal includes nouns for “women, fire and dangerous things.”

Distinguishing between genders in the way English does can also be helpful at certain points in a society’s development, Boroditsky said. If ideas of gender equality haven’t taken root, gendered language can keep women from becoming invisible.

“It brings people out of the shadows,” she said.

But as a culture develops, she added, gender is often an irrelevant detail that limits the scope of discussion. Whether a doctor is a man or a woman is not so important as whether they are a good doctor.

But the road to gender-neutral language is littered with obstacles. In languages like Spanish with gendered noun classes, the distinction is woven so deeply into the grammar that probably nothing but time could remove it. Even in the more modestly gendered English, grammarians have fought against modifications as slight as substituting “they” for “he” as the generic pronoun, even though the latter has been in popular use for hundreds of years.

The French Academy, the authority on language in France, has gone so far as to condemn gender-neutral language, calling it an “aberration.” The institution argues inclusive writing, and the confusion it would breed, poses a “deadly danger” to the language.

“People have to want to do it,” Boroditsky said. “In the end, language is a tool people change to fit their needs.”

Eckert agrees, saying: “it’s not going to happen magically overnight.” And no one thinks a pronoun shift would eradicate sexism altogether. But as we come to realize the impact of language on the mind, Boroditsky argues that eliminating the routine separation of genders in our speech could help to mute the differences we perceive in them.

“Maybe it’s time to be able to imagine a human without categorizing them by gender,” she said, “and see them as more of an individual.”


Debunking the Biggest Myths About ‘Technology Addiction’

By Christopher J. Ferguson, Stetson University | May 23, 2018 10:50 am

Using this many devices at once doesn’t mean a person is addicted to technology. (Credit: Shutterstock)

How concerned should people be about the psychological effects of screen time? Balancing technology use with other aspects of daily life seems reasonable, but there is a lot of conflicting advice about where that balance should be. Much of the discussion is framed around fighting “addiction” to technology. But to me, that resembles a moral panic, giving voice to scary claims based on weak data.

For example, in April 2018, television journalist Katie Couric’s “America Inside Out” program focused on the effects of technology on people’s brains. The episode featured the co-founder of a business treating technology addiction. That person compared addiction to technology with addictions to cocaine and other drugs. The show also implied that technology use could lead to Alzheimer’s disease-like memory loss. Others, such as psychologist Jean Twenge, have linked smartphones with teen suicide. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Technology, Top Posts

What I Learned Studying Real Vampires

A scene from "Interview with the Vampire" featuring Christian Slater and Brad Pitt. (Credit: Warner Bros./Youtube)

A scene from “Interview with the Vampire” featuring Christian Slater and Brad Pitt. (Credit: Warner Bros./Youtube)

[Editor’s note: One of the most popular articles on our site is a piece by Georgia Institute of Technology researcher John Edgar Browning about his work with the real vampire community, published in March 2015. In it, Browning discusses what a real vampire is, how they live their lives, and what researchers are hoping to learn about them. Here, he expands on the difficulties of finding and studying this enigmatic group of people, as well as the lessons he’s learned in the process.]

With Christopher Rice’s tantalizing tweet about the new Vampire Lestat television treatment and news of Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker’s Dracula prequel, Dracul, due out from Putnam in October, the topic of vampires again looms nigh for lovers of fiction and the supernatural. What happens, though, when the borders between fact and fiction fade into gray uncertainty?

For real vampires (or human vampires, as they are otherwise called), this is the reality they live with every day. What follows is not the full scope of their story. It’s not even a little. But it’s enough, I hope, to offer insight and invite curiosity. And perhaps, from some of us, even to spur self-reflection. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Mind & Brain
MORE ABOUT: psychology

Let’s End the Debate About Video Games and Violence

By Christopher J. Ferguson, Stetson University | February 19, 2018 11:03 am

Young gamers give new titles a spin during a past SXSW gaming conference in Austin, Texas. (Credit: Shutterstock)

In the wake of the Valentine’s Day shooting at a Broward County, Florida high school, a familiar trope has reemerged: Often, when a young man is the shooter, people try to blame the tragedy on violent video games and other forms of media. Florida lawmaker Jared Moskowitz made the connection the day after the shooting, saying the gunman “was prepared to pick off students like it’s a video game.”

In January, after two students were killed and many others wounded by a 15-year-old shooter in Benton, Kentucky, the state’s governor criticized popular culture, telling reporters, “We can’t celebrate death in video games, celebrate death in TV shows, celebrate death in movies, celebrate death in musical lyrics and remove any sense of morality and sense of higher authority and then expect that things like this are not going to happen.” Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: psychology

Are You a Directionally Biased Kisser?

(Credit: Shutterstock)

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Your brain is an organ of two halves – the left side and the right side. And there are many brain functions, such as language skills or which hand you write with, which are organized mostly in one side of the brain or the other.

Simple behavioral tests have now allowed us to see how this organization is revealed through biases in how we see and interact with the world – and each other – often without us being aware of it. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: psychology

Memory Repression: A Dubious Theory That’s Sticking Around

By Ian Graber-Stiehl | July 6, 2017 10:34 am

(Credit: Shutterstock)

Compared to the other generational tragedies of the late ’80s and early ’90s, the rise of memory repression cases is hardly remembered. But nevertheless, during that time hundreds of abuse cases in the courts hinged on unproven theories of Sigmund Freud, tearing hundreds of families asunder and solidifying memory repression in clinical lore. Harvard University psychologist Richard McNally famously called repressed memories “the worst catastrophe to befall the mental health field since the lobotomy.”

For journalist Mark Pendergrast, it was the start of his career as a science writer. Falling into a rabbit hole of research on Freud for another book on Coca Cola, he began investigating memory recovery therapy. The resulting book, “Victims of Memory,” debunked many of the claims buttressing memory repression, and he painted an uncomfortable picture of a justice system that filed an some 800 criminal cases based on what may amount to pseudoscience.

But far from being a one-time phenomenon, belief in memory repression remains a prevalent notion. So Pendergrast has written two new books on the subject: ‘Memory Warp: How the Myth of Repressed Memory Arose and Refuses to Die,’ and an academic textbook ‘The Repressed Memory Epidemic: How It Happened and What We Need to Learn from It.’ He incorporated new incorporated new research, conducted in partnership with Southern Mississippi University’s Lawrence Patihis, in his new work. Discover spoke with Pendergrast about why he decided to revisit a topic he dug into more than two decades ago.

Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, Top Posts

Do We Need a Word for Everything?

By Nathaniel Scharping | April 4, 2017 10:27 am

(Credit: danm12/Shutterstock)

Imagine walking through a forest near dusk. It is peaceful and quiet; the setting sun paints streaks of light through tree trunks and across your path. The scene is familiar to anyone who’s ever taken a walk in the woods. 

Using one word, how would you describe the experience? 

You might defer to a string of adjectives: serenity, beauty, peace, fulfillment — words that dance around the feeling without ever precisely pinning it down. But that’s not the case in Japanese. In that language, a specific term encapsulates the feeling evoked by sunlight dancing through the trees: komorebi.

It’s a tidy way of packaging calm, wonder and harmony into one word. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: emotions, psychology

Police Lineups: The Science of Getting It Right

By Ben Thomas | September 23, 2016 12:42 pm

(Credit: Shutterstock)

One night in 1984, a man broke into Jennifer Thompson’s apartment and raped her at knifepoint. Throughout the attack, the college student memorized every detail of her rapist’s face, promising herself that when she took the witness stand against him, “he was going to rot” in prison.

Thompson hurried to police the morning after the attack, giving them a detailed description of her rapist, filling in all the characteristics she’d memorized so carefully. The police put together a photographic lineup – the standard lineup technique in the modern U.S. – and Thompson selected a man named Ronald Junior Cotton. “I had picked the right guy,” she said. “I was sure. I knew it.”

But Cotton was innocent, as DNA evidence proved – after he’d spent 11 years in prison. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts

Why Does Time Seem to Fly as We Get Older?

By Christian Yates, University of Bath | August 11, 2016 12:55 pm
time flies

(Aleksandar Mijatovic/Shutterstock)

When we were children, the summer holidays seemed to last forever, and the wait between Christmases felt like an eternity. So why is that when we get older, the time just seems to zip by, with weeks, months and entire seasons disappearing from a blurred calendar at dizzying speed?

This apparently accelerated time travel is not a result of filling our adult lives with grown-up responsibilities and worries. Research does in fact seem to show that perceived time moves more quickly for older people making our lives feel busy and rushed. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts

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