Giving Thanks

by Chris KelaherRKelaher

As the fourth Thursday in November approaches, thoughts in the United States inevitably turn to Thanksgiving. (Canada beats us to the punch by marking Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October.) This national day of gratitude, whose roots trace back to a post-harvest feast shared by Pilgrims and Native Americans in 1621, was first pronounced a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War and has long been a staple of American cultural life. The holiday conjures up images of turkey and stuffing, parades and pie, airport delays, Black Friday shopping, and endless football. But the real star of the feast is thankfulness, or gratitude. So, what exactly is gratitude, and what does in mean in a psychology context?  cornucopia2

Here is the definition presented in The APA Dictionary of Psychology (American Psychological Association, 2013):

Gratitude n. a sense of thankfulness and happiness in response to receiving a gift, either a tangible benefit (e.g., a present or favor) given by someone or a fortunate happenstance (e.g. a beautiful day).

It is only in relatively recent years that the concept gratitude has received much attention by psychology researchers, but it is now an area of growing attention, due at least in part to its prominent role in positive psychology. It also is an area of interest within subfields such as personality, religion and spirituality, and happiness studies, among others.

Using the search term “gratitude” in APA’s PsycNET database brings up 1,017 results, including 129 books or book chapters. For example, Robert D. Carlisle and Jon-Ann Tsang contributed a chapter on “The Virtues: Gratitude and Forgiveness” to 2013’s APA Handbook of Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality, edited by Kenneth Pargament. (See link below.) Tsang and Carlisle define gratitude in this way: ““a positive emotional reaction to the receipt of a benefit that is perceived to have resulted from the good intentions of another.”

  • Other recent books of interest to those who study gratitude include Philip C. Watkins’ Gratitude and the Good Life: Toward a Psychology of Appreciation (Springer, 2014) and Salman Akhtar’s Good Stuff: Courage, Resilience, Gratitude, Forgiveness, and Sacrifice (Jason Aronson, 2013.)

Several recent psychology books also include individual chapters devoted to the topic of gratitude. A partial sampling:

  • Anthony Ahrens, Courtney Forbes, and Michael Tirade contributed a “Gratitude” chapter to Guilford Press’ Handbook on Positive Emotions (2014).
  • Michael Furlong et al’s Handbook of Positive Psychology in the Schools 2ed includes the chapter “Gratitude in Schools: Benefits of Students and Schools” by Giaconda Bono, Jeffrey J. Froh, and Rafael Forrest.
  • 2014’s Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Positive Psychology in Interventions (Acacia C. Parks and Stephen M. Schuler, eds.) includes a chapter on “Gratitude Interventions: A Review and Future Agenda,” by Tara Lamas, Jeffrey J. Froh, Robert A. Emmons, Anjali Mishra, and Giaconda Bono.

Thanks to these researchers and others like them, we are developing a much better understanding of gratitude. It has benefits on both ends—for people who receive thanks or appreciation, of course, but also for those expressing thanks. For example, Carlisle and Tsang tell us that “gratitude provides information

about the value, cost, intentionality, and role-independent nature of a benefit from another person.” It promotes pro-social behavior, and researchers have also identified links between gratitude and other positive traits or circumstances, such as life satisfaction, happiness, optimism, empathy, and hope.

 

In the words of Robert Emmons, a leader in the field and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Positive Psychology, “Gratitude works. It has the power to heal, to energize, and to change lives.” So go forth, be grateful, and enjoy your Thanksgiving.

 

You can read more about the benefits of gratitude via the links below.

http://www.apa.org/pubs/books/4311506.aspx

http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2015/04/grateful-heart.aspx

http://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2012/01/research-gratitude.aspx

http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2012/08/health-benefits.aspx

 

 

 

 

 

What is Psycholinguistics?

RKelaher

by Chris Kelaher

 

Psycholinguistics is the scientific combination of psychology and linguistics. According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology 2ed (Washington DC: American Psychological Association, 2015):

 

Psycholinguistics n. a branch of psychology that employs formal linguistic models to investigate language use and the cognitive processes that accompany it. Developmental psycholinguistics is the formal term for the branch that investigates LANGUAGE ACQUISITION in children. In particular, various models of GENERATIVE GRAMMAR have been used to explain and predict language acquisition in children and the production and comprehension of speech by adults. To this extent, psycholinguistics is a specific discipline, distinguishable from the more general area of psychology of language, which encompasses many other fields and approaches.

Other sources frame the term more broadly, however, locating it within the wider scope of cognitive science. Dictionary.com defines psycholinguistics as “the study of the relationship between language and the cognitive or behavioral characteristics of those who use it.” And in the APA Encyclopedia of Psychology (2000), Maria D. Sera tells us that:

Psycholinguistics is the study of human language processing, involving a range of abilities, from cognition to sensorimotor activity, that are recruited to the service of a complex set of communicative functions. It is related to the traditional academic disciplines of linguistics, psychology, education, anthropology, and philosophy, and particularly the cross-disciplinary areas of speech science, cognitive science, artificial intelligence, neurolinguistics, and language learning, teaching, and rehabilitation.

speech-bubblesIn his book Psycholinguistics 101 (Springer Publishing Co., 2011), H. Wind Cowles writes: “Psycholinguistics asks the question: How is it that people are able, moment-by-moment, to produce and understand language? …. How do children come to have this ability? How and why is it sometimes impaired after brain damage?”

How widely used is the term “psycholinguistics”? Well, typing the word into the Google search engine produces about 500,000 results. To give you some context, the term “psychotherapy” produces 35.5 million results while “neuroscience” produces over 41 million. So while the term is certainly not a state secret, it does not have the broad currency of many more established concepts within psychology. But it is a field growing in interest and significance, and we are excited to increase our offerings in the field of psycholinguistics.

To that effect, APA Books is collaborating with De Gruyter Mouton, a leading international publisher of linguistics and communication science, on a new book series. Language and the Human Lifespan will feature the best contemporary research in psycholinguistics. This month marks the release of the first title in the series, Bilingualism across the Lifespan: Factors Moderating Language Proficiency, co-edited by University of Alberta psychologist Elena Nicoladis and Simona Montanari, a linguist at Cal State, Los Angeles.

The Language and the Human Lifespan Series will be essential for all who work in or are interested in the porous disciplinary boundaries of psychology and linguistics, drawing on top-flight researchers from both fields. Future titles in the series will cover such topics as autism and language, research methods for studying language acquisition, and the concept of entrenchment—the ongoing reorganization and adaptation of communicative knowledge.

 

Rain, Rain, Go Away

stephanie hendersonby Stephanie Henderson

I hit the snooze button for the third time, begrudgingly slumped out of bed and opened my curtains. It was still raining.

Here at APA headquarters in Washington, DC, it has been raining every day for the last three weeks.

Later that morning, during one of our routine chats, my mother asked me, “Are you doing okay? I know how down you can get when the sun hasn’t shined for a few days.” It was a valid question, considering that to keep me motivated in the winter I often play songs that remind me of summer. Although I have never been clinically diagnosed, her question made me think about seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Although many of us complain about the “winter blues,” SAD can severely affect one’s day-to-day life. The APA Dictionary of Psychology (2007) defines SAD as:rain-cloud-clipart

A mood disorder in which there is a predictable occurrence of major depressive episodes, manic episodes, or both at particular times of the year. The typical pattern is the occurrence of major depressive episodes during the fall or winter months. Also called seasonal mood disorder.

In Creating Well-Being: Four Steps to a Happier, Healthier Life, Pamela A. Hays (2014) explores the importance of light in improving one’s general well-being. While describing her time spent living in Alaska, Hays notes that during the winter the sun shines for only a few hours each day and for some people, this can lead to depression. She then goes on to say that “exposure to outdoor light helps to counter seasonal affective disorder” (p. 131) and cites studies that have shown how light that mimics sunlight can have similar effects.

Although SAD has only recently been recognized as a mental health diagnosis, research on SAD is steadily increasing. This past March, the National Institute of Mental Health published a comprehensive web page exploring SAD: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/seasonalaffectivedisorder.html).  More research still needs to be done, but in the meantime, let’s hope that “the sun will come out tomorrow!”

References

Hays, P. (2014). Creating well-being: Four steps to a happier, healthier life. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2007). APA dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Open Pages: Reductionism and the Seduction of Neuroscience

APA Books Open Pages is an ongoing series in which we share interesting tidbits from upcoming books. Find the full list by browsing the Open Pages tag.

Reductionism does not necessarily arise from oversimplification or misapplication of neuroscientific findings but, rather, from an inflated admiration of the field. Neuroscience is popular, and some of its findings about the human brain are indeed remarkable, even awe inspiring. As a result, it is easy to become so enamored with neuroscience that we are tempted to think that neurobiological descriptions are the only legitimate descriptive systems for human experience. For example, it’s tempting to describe such human phenomena as love, hope, and altruism in terms of brain structures, circuitry, and chemistry. Although such descriptions are indeed fascinating and perhaps even accurate from a neurobiological perspective, it is easy to forget that there are other descriptive systems, equally valid, that place these important human experiences in a phenomenological context, describing them in terms of the meaning and value they hold for human beings. Indeed, perhaps the greatest danger with the current fascination with neuroscience may be the tendency to describe important human experiences in material, biological terms without also acknowledging their subjective, value-laden, and phenomenological dimensions. This is not to deny that all human experiences have neurological substrates but, rather, to affirm that in our scientific age, biologically based explanations can push aside other ways of knowing that are just as valid and sometimes more important to human life. For example, it would be unthinkably reductionistic to describe a mother’s love for her child in terms of neural activity and brain chemicals without also recognizing that her subjective and value-laden experience of love for her child, a phenomenological experience, is a vital component of any full and accurate description of parental love.

human elements psychotherapy–From Chapter 3, “Neuroscience and Evolutionary Theory: How Our Brains Are Evolved to Heal Through Social Means,” pp. 54-55, in The Human Elements of Psychotherapy: A Nonmedical Model of Emotional Healing by David N. Elkins. Copyright © 2016 by the American Psychological Association. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the United States Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, including, but not limited to, the process of scanning and digitization, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

 

Exciting News at APA Books!

dictionaryWe are pleased to announce that in January, the APA Dictionary of Psychology, Second Edition, was named the Choice Outstanding Academic Title for 2015!

A review of the dictionary was previously published in Choice’s October issue, in which it said, “Thorough but concise definitions remain the norm in this update, and the challenge of encompassing the diverse fields of psychology in a single volume makes this a triumph of cooperative composition and outstanding editing.”

Choice’s January 2016 issue highlighted the list of winners and best in scholarly titles.