We’re presenting a short series of abstracts of the work-in-progress our scholars presented and discussed at their June 2017 Working Group Meeting.
Robert C. Roberts is Professor of Ethics and Emotion Theory at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, and joint Chair with the Royal Institute of Philosophy. Michael Spezio is Associate Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience and head of the Laboratory for Inquiry into Valuation and Emotion (LIVE) at Scripps College in Claremont, CA.
After living for a significant period in l’Arche communities, people often experience a change of self-other concept. It is a character change in which, from conceiving self-other in a way that is typical for modern secular societies, members’ experience of self in relation to others is transformed under the reign of what we call humble love. Both before and after the transformation, the experience of self-other has the character of concern-based construal, but the terms of the two kinds of construal are mutually contrary. Following Jean Vanier, we call the ethos guiding the first self-other style of construal “the Normal” (he writes of “the tyranny of the Normal”). The leading concepts on which this ethos turns are success, competence, competition, advancement, achievement, power, superior-inferior, rival, reputation/recognition/ acclaim, and the like, as criteria for the evaluation of persons. Here the self is seen as in relation to the other/ others, but the relations are distancing, alienating, ones of rivalry, differential competence, superior achievement, competition for power, winner and loser, etc. The relations are not those within a community, in the strict sense, but rather within a social arena of agonistic differentiation. By contrast, the terms of self-other construals that are fostered by long-term living in l’Arche are characterized by commonality, mutuality, and reconciliation: brother/sister, friend, helper, colleague, forgiveness, love. Humble love combines two highly congruent and complementary virtues: humility and charity. The tyranny of the Normal erects “walls” that impede the mutuality construals of self-other that are characteristic of love. Humility, which dissipates or undermines the distancing, alienating self-other construals, brings down these walls, making way for the genuine communion of love with its characteristic self-other construals.
Can science measure happiness? One of the things our Neuroscience Laboratory does here at the University of Chicago is measure the impact of both physical and social environments on brain and behavior. One of the environments that we are most interested in is the natural environment. In our laboratory, we have performed studies showing that brief walks in nature (e.g., a local park) can improve memory and attention performance 20% more than the same walk on a busy urban street (Berman et al., 2008; 2012). In fact, we can enjoy greater benefits to our well being just by looking at pictures of nature, rather than pictures from urban environments (Berman et al., 2008).
This work is based on Attention Restoration Theory (ART), which posits that attention can be divided into effortful directed attention (i.e., the attention you use at work) and more effortless involuntary attention (i.e., attention that is automatically captured by interesting stimulation in the environment; Kaplan, 1995; Kaplan & Berman 2010). According to ART, environments that don’t require that you pay constant attention to them but do capture your involuntary attention in some way actually end up replenishing your memory and attention resources. Nature is an example of one such environment that replenishes direct-attention resources, though some built environments, such as museums or quiet city streets with beautiful architecture, can also help restore you in this way.
Indeed, simply viewing pictures of nature can be good for you. With this in mind, we have begun looking at the simplest low-level visual elements present in natural and urban scenes in order to identify features that predict how subjectively “natural” a scene is (Berman et al., 2014a) and how attractive people will find it (Kardan et al., 2015a). With this knowledge we are beginning to manipulate these features in order to test whether an image with more curved edges, such as would be found in nature, would result in greater memory and attention improvements for subjects viewing it. At a larger, more population based level, we are examining how neighborhood greenspace in a large urban center (as measured with satellite imagery) is related to health, controlling for SES factors. We are finding that planting 10-11 more trees on the street significantly improves health perception and significantly decreases cardio-metabolic diseases, independent of income and education levels (Kardan et al., 2015b).
We are currently using eye-tracking measures to examine how peoples’ eye-movements may differ when viewing natural vs. man-made scenes, and also measuring the brains’ response to these environments more directly with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Lastly, we are interested in gene by environment interactions, looking at how genetic factors may impact one’s response to different natural and urban environments. Ultimately our lab is interested in how different physical environments affect brain and behavior and how we can use these results to influence built environment designs in ways that improve human health and well being.