Register now for “Courage, Faith, and Meaning: Existential Positive Psychology’s Response to Adversity”

Join researchers and practitioners from over 30 countries at the 2018 Meaning Conference, a “big tent” gathering known for its inclusivity, integration, and innovation in meaning research and its applications since 2000.

The conference will also celebrate the International Network on Personal Meaning’s 20th year anniversary jointly with founder Dr. Paul Wong’s 80th birthday. Paul Wong is a scholar with the project Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

August 2-5, 2018 | Vancouver, Canada

Early Bird ends May 31, 2018 at 11:59 PM (EST).


Marc Berman on how physical environment impacts the brain and behavior

This conversation is reproduced from “Common Ground: Emily Talen and Marc Berman,” Dialogo: UChicago Social Sciences. LINK


Emily Talen and Marc Berman

Emily Talen and Marc Berman


DIALOGO: What big questions motivate your research?

TALEN: I spent my senior year in college in Paris. I was homesick, so I ended up just walking every inch of the city. As a sociology major, I was interested in cities from a built environment perspective and appreciating public space, great architecture, and great urbanism. Paris is different because it’s so planned. There has been forethought put into the way its public spaces, its streets, the frontage quality, everything about the city somebody’s thought about it. That contrasts with the suburban sprawl that I grew up in, where it’s much more driven by the bottom line of buying and selling, and much less attention given to public space mostly. Throughout my career, I’ve focused on what we can do to intervene and actually make things happen. In Paris, there was intervention, and you got Paris. I mean, we have so little of that in the US. In Chicago, sure, you can point to some good public spaces, but the design of the city is just not that thought out. There’s a lot to study there. Why did that happen? Where does it work? Where does it not work? What’s the fall-out of not being good city planners? Why does that happen and what’s the effect? It’s been a rich source of things to tap for a research agenda.

BERMAN: I’m interested in how the physical environment affects brain and behavior. A lot of people have this misconception that because humans have so much control over the environment, that we’re sort of immune to it — but the environment plays a huge role in our behavior, and we’re not even aware of it. We started to do some studies where we had people walk in nature versus more urban environments, and we found that people could improve their memory and attention by about 20% if they just went for a short walk in nature, versus a walk in a more urban environment. Much of our research is trying to figure out why. And also to touch on what Emily was saying, that at least in the US/North America, we haven’t done that good of a job in terms of designing cities for human psychological functioning. It’s good for moving goods and for housing people efficiently and things like that. But is it good for having a populace be the most productive they could be, or to have the highest wellbeing? I think we’re lacking in that area. As a lab, we are working to incorporate some of these elements of nature that we think are good for human psychological functioning, for human brain functioning, and retrofit those elements into cities.

TALEN: To me, a baseline question is how much attention is paid to the public realm, as opposed to the private realm. You go to some cities and think to yourself, “They’re really focused on the private world.” As an example, I usually pick on Phoenix because that’s where I was for some years. That built environment is reflective of people having their own internal worlds. You drive down the street, it’s nothing but walls separating different housing pods. How much of the public ground was cared for? That means everything from how the building meets the street to actual public spaces to the width of the sidewalk. How are people moving around in the city? Is it efficient for them to do, and do they have to rely on a car, which is bad for the environment? Even electric cars, self-driving cars, aren’t that great either because there’s a lot that goes into fabricating and manufacturing of an electric vehicle. I want people to just walk. To what degree are cities good for human beings to go out and use their two legs? In some ways, it’s just that simple.

BERMAN: That’s a big problem. Think about how much in this country, too, we have problems with obesity and lack of exercise. It’s difficult to take time out to exercise, but if walking is a part of your daily routine, you will get some exercise there. I mean, that’s kind of what recent Nobel laureate Richard Thaler says, “If you want somebody to do something, make it easy.” We make it really hard in our current society to exercise and do other healthy behaviors. I mean, we’re not meant to just sit in a car and go places. We’re meant to move around — there’s all this research about how exercise is good for cognition and mental health, not just good for physical health. That’s a huge element to this. Also, by having these huge roads many of the natural elements that you could have if you had a more walkable kind of space are destroyed.

To pick up on that idea of what’s natural, how do you define natural when you’re looking at these questions?

BERMAN: In the first study where we had people walk in an arboretum versus in a busy urban environment, we made the distinction ourselves. We’ve done studies where we show people pictures of nature versus pictures of built spaces. They’re not as strong as actual walking, but they are similar and suggest that there’s something about the visual aesthetic of nature that might be contributing to these cognitive benefits. Could it be the fractalness of nature, the amount of curved edges, the color palette? People have lots of different conceptions about nature versus urban. To someone who is an avid hiker, for example, a city park might not seem that natural. To somebody who is a very urban person, it might seem quite natural. The kind of nature that we’ve been researching thus far has been nearby nature in cities.

TALEN: Do you worry about defining cities as unnatural? If the urban is unnatural, we might somehow forgive poorly designed urbanism because, well, it’s not natural.

BERMAN: This is a good point. And people do see naturalness in buildings. We’re doing a study now where we’re showing only buildings to people, and they are seeing nature in some of these buildings. A Gaudí building in Barcelona is rated as more natural than a very 1960s cubic kind of architecture, which is rated as very unnatural. Our algorithms can predict whether something will be perceived as natural or not because it mimics patterns in nature, even though there’s nothing “natural” about it. It’s an entirely built structure. Look in this room here. This room has a lot of patterns in it that mimic nature, so you can construct environments that look like nature, even if they aren’t nature. That’s not exactly what we’re advocating for, although I think we should be thinking about that as well.

Do definitions of nature play into the way neighborhoods and cities have been managed?

By Lynn Betts / Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service., Public Domain,

By Lynn Betts / Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service., Public Domain,


TALEN: This is how we’ve gotten into trouble. In some ways, suburban sprawl is a quest to be near nature, right, but it ended up backfiring, with people having a sense that they’re closer to nature when really they were undermining nature. That’s set up a tension and confusion about how we should be designing cities and the place of nature in cities while we’re trying to be compact and have a lot of proximity between what people need in their daily lives and where they live. How do you bring nature into that in a way that doesn’t then spread everyone out and end up being bad for nature? That’s an interesting urban design question. In some ways, Paris has been good at bringing in nature in a way that is not destructive, and still being very compact and dense. They’ve sort of formalized nature, nature exists in very manicured small settings. When we bring nature in here, it’s all these big parks, or it’s suburban sprawl. We don’t know how to have the best of both worlds.

BERMAN: I think another area to touch on, too, is the physical space and the pattern of behavior. Suburbs might have more “green space” but people’s behavior is less natural, right? You’re going into your car, you’re zipping around. In cities, if you’re walking to places and if your social interactions mimic the environments that humans have lived in for a longer period of time, that in some sense is more natural than living in the suburbs, even though there might be more green space there. That’s another layer to add onto the physical environment —interactions with that environment and the patterns of the human behavior.

Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data for Cook County (O’Hare airport excluded) with 7 landcover variables plotted; Dark green = Tree Canopy, Light Green = Grass/Shrub, Pink = Bare Soil, Blue = Water, Red = Buildings, Orange = Roads, and Gray = Other paved surfaces. Within a county, there is notable variation in the balance of urban and natural elements.

TALEN: Have you heard of the transect? It’s a way of thinking about cities along a transect, a line, where you cut a line from rural to urban, and at every spot along that line you try to form cohesive environments depending where you are on the line. If you’re on the rural end, you don’t get those urban level services. As you move in and you don’t have as much nature, you have lots of services. Some people have been trying to think about zoning our cities that way. Zoning is a total mess, total disaster, it makes no sense. If we zoned our cities to be those immersive kind of coherent environments along the transect, we’d have better cities.

Does looking at how things have historically been organized in cities like Chicago help explain how things got this way? Does it suggest how we can get out of it?

TALEN: I’m focusing right now on retail, working with a post-doc and looking at small, independent, mom-and-pop shops. Where they are in the city, and where they’re dying. There’s an existential crisis in retail — first it was the big boxes, now it’s e-commerce. So what does that mean for our street life? If it’s not going to be retail, then what’s it going to be? The big boxes are not so good at activating street life. Streets are the most public land that we have in the city, by far. Do we want our cities to be composed of streets that are just conduits for cars? So we’ve been mapping out every block in the city of Chicago, looking at where are the mom-and-pop stores and what kinds of environments are they located in. And now I’m sending students out with a survey to ask these retailers how they are doing. Are they connected to the neighborhood? What is the future from their perspective?

There’s been a lot of hand wringing about bad decisions that were made — basically, everything between 1930 and 1990 was a total disaster for urbanism. The focus on urban renewal, tearing things down, putting in big highways. Really, really bad mistakes were made, globally. There’s a lot of attention paid to not repeating those mistakes. That’s why I brought up autonomous vehicles. The circles I run in, which is all about walkable urbanism, are very leery about that because it’s the next technological fix, and it sounds so much like the discussions that were going on in the 1950s: “Oh, look at these big highways. Everybody will be able to just drive everywhere.” You’ve seen these utopian “Jetsons” kind of worlds that were envisioned, and it’s the same thing going on now.

There’s not a lot of nature in those images of the Jetsons future.

TALEN: Right. No, no. There’s no nature there. I show some of these films in my classes, and the students are just amazed at the thinking that was going on. Futuristic city thinking, but we actually constructed a lot of the nightmare that didn’t pan out. That’s why relying too much on technology makes me nervous. How do you think, Marc? Do you agree?

BERMAN: It’s an interesting question about these autonomous vehicles, and if they just perpetuate this driving culture, that’s not desirable. I guess the technology is going to come whether we like it or not. We’re using some of the technology to quantify the benefits of cities. We’re developing apps like the ReTUNE app so if you want to get from point A to point B, it will give you the most restorative walk or route that has the most green space, the least amount of traffic, and is the quietest, and safest. I think walk-ability is a huge thing, and it also needs to be something that has to be equitable. Naomi Davis, who has a non-profit in Chicago called Blacks in Green, talks about one square mile, about having African American neighborhoods where you can get everything in one square mile (i.e., workplaces, shopping, entertainment, etc.), which is really not true in current times. All these things are highly related to each other and might foster better social interactions, which could have lots of other types of positive downstream consequences.

Another theme that Emily and I talk about is this movement to slow things down. We come up against this with mobile technology and phones. We’re each interested in how interacting with nature gives people a chance to be kind of contemplative and reflective, which is something that people don’t do a lot now because they distract themselves with music, social networking and other things. One of the reasons why we think interacting with nature might be beneficial is that it kind of forces people to be alone with their thoughts, and that’s why when we did the studies we kept cell phones in the lab. We made them go out on their own to force them to interact with the environment. And we found amazing effects. The weird part about the mobile technology is that it’s an addictive technology. Usually, things that are addictive are not really good for you.

Can nature be addictive?

BERMAN: I suppose it could. It’s hard for me to conjure up a lot of negatives. Whenever I talk to people about this and say, “we need to interact with nature more,” nobody ever argues with me about it. They may argue with me about why it works, but nobody argues with me that it does.

One misconception about nature is that it’s all about mood or pleasantness or something. It’s more than that. Something else is going on there. Certainly, people tend to get into better moods when in nature, but that doesn’t seem to be the driving factor for these kinds of attention and concentration benefits that we see. One reason could be that our brains evolved in these more natural types of environments. When we did our study in Ann Arbor, we had people walk at different times of the year. Some people walked in June, when it was 80 degrees Fahrenheit. People loved the walk, and showed these really healthy memory attention benefits. We also had people walk in January, 25 degrees Fahrenheit. People said, “Marc, I was freezing my butt off out there. Why did you make me go out there?” But they showed the same memory and attention benefits as the people that walked in June. You didn’t even have to enjoy the nature interaction to get the cognitive benefit.

Now, the trick is figuring out what is it about this environment that’s producing these benefits? Also, what is it about how our brain’s are organized and how they function that we’re seeing this kind of synchrony between the brain’s processing of natural environments?

Is there room to collaborate on all of these questions? What would that look like?

TALEN: Urban planning is, by definition, very interdisciplinary. There are different wings of urban planning, and certainly the exciting part of urban planning is where it intersects with another discipline like psychology, like architecture, like sociology. “Innovation at the margins of disciplines” —  I think it’s true with urban planning. The trick is to not get too disparate with all these different fields and lose sight of the end game, which is that we want better designed cities. How do we take all that interdisciplinary thinking and corral it back into what is sort of a more narrow focus, which is, can’t we just have cities that look like Paris? Why can’t we?

BERMAN: We want to know how to design the environment for better human psychological health. That can mean a lot of different things. In talking with Emily, she’s brought variables to mind that we haven’t really thought about, like having people map out where all the mom-and-pop shops are — we can incorporate that into our models where we have green space over the whole city, and we have health variables of people all over the city, crime in the whole city. We can start adding all these different variables in and see what’s predicting crime, what’s predicting disease, school performance, things like that. To me, it’s exciting that with big data we may actually be able to quantify some of these things. To say, well, when you have this many mom-and-pop stores, a reduction in car traffic, and you have 12 more trees per city block, you can reduce cardiovascular disease by 3% and crime by 5%. I think we’re moving in that direction. There’s a lot of people on campus that are very interested in these issues. It’s an exciting time.


Emily Talen is Professor of Urbanism in the Division and Director of the Urbanism Lab at UChicago. Her research is devoted to urban design and urbanism, especially the relationship between the built environment and social equity. Studying the making and unmaking of neighborhoods in cities like Chicago, Talen (who worked as a professional planner in California and Ohio before entering academia) looks for ways to improve the form and pattern of American cities and neighborhoods so they can be more inclusive and supportive. In a book currently underway, Talen explores the ideal of the neighborhood, comparing a wide range of perspectives on what makes a neighborhood, and the relationship between idealized neighborhood plans and reality. An earlier book, City Rules: How Regulations Affect Urban Form, looked at urban codes over the ages — showing that while many contemporary codes stifle communities, encouraging sprawl and even blight, revised codes can produce a more positive outcome.

Marc Berman is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology and is involved in the Cognition and Integrative Neuroscience programs. His research centers on understanding the relationship between individual psychological and neural processing, and environmental factors. Berman’s Environmental Neuroscience Lab uses brain imaging, behavioral experimentation, computational neuroscience and statistical models to quantify the person, the environment and their interactions. Recent studies from the lab have determined that the density of trees in a neighborhood has positive effects on individual health comparable to being younger and wealthier, and have identified elemental features of natural and man-made environments that influence individual preferences, and also memory, attention, and mood. He is a scholar with the project Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

Samantha Mendez: “Musings from the VHML Summer Seminar 2017”

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Summer Session 2017: “Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life” cohort | Samantha Mendez is in the front row, fourth from the left.


Prior to the 2017 summer seminar, my research exposure was mostly on the field of Psychology. My collaborations were also limited to the Psychological discipline; hence, my understanding of the world was mostly influenced by the psychological frame. The best part about the experience was the interdisciplinary nature of the discussions. It was truly refreshing to be among philosophers and theologians who enlarged my understanding of virtue, happiness, friendship, meaning in life, and self-transcendence. I was not limited to a psychological standpoint, which usually automatically involves operationally defining virtue and happiness in measurable ways. The engaging and meaningful conversations I shared in and outside the sessions enriched my understanding and deepened my appreciation of pursuing knowledge for its own sake. I am also grateful for the cultural exposure through the faculty and my co-attendees. Prior to my attendance in this seminar, I only learned about other cultures vicariously through books, scientific papers, and movies. The interactions and conversations I have had with everybody from the summer seminar contributed to a deeper appreciation for cultural diversity.


Studying the constructs from a philosophical lens contributed to a holistic understanding of these constructs. It reminded me of the intimate history of Philosophy and Psychology as academic disciplines. This, in turn, inspired me to keep the philosophical perspective in mind as I currently write my dissertation proposal. The dialogues I’ve had with the other seminar attendees have also helped me clarify my own research agenda. I came to the seminar with a rough idea of what I wanted to study but I came out of it with more questions, which have been valuable in helping me tease out what I truly wanted to investigate. Continue reading “Samantha Mendez: “Musings from the VHML Summer Seminar 2017””

A stairway to heaven: A terror management theory perspective on morality

Congratulations to our Summer Session 2017 participant Andrea Yetzer, PhD student in Psychology at Northwestern University. She’s written a chapter for “Atlas of moral psychology,” out now from Guilford Press.
This chapter views moral values, judgment, and behavior from the framework of terror management theory (Solomon, Greenberg, & Pyszczynski, 1991, 2015). Terror management theory posits that as cultural animals, we seek to achieve the behavioral standards set forth by our cultural worldviews, from which we derive both self-worth and meaning, as they ultimately protect us from the anxiety aroused by thoughts of our own eventual death. From a terror management perspective, individuals care about living up to moral values because doing so enables them to view themselves as enduring, significant contributors to a meaningful world who will continue to exist after death–either literally by qualifying for an afterlife, or symbolically by contributing to something greater than themselves that will last forever.
Yetzer, A. M., Pyszczynski, T., & Greenberg, J. (2018). A stairway to heaven: A terror management theory perspective on morality. In K. Gray & J. Graham (Eds.), Atlas of moral psychology (pp. 241-251). New York: Guilford Press.

CFP: Practicing Science: Virtues, Values, and the Good Life

The Notre Dame London Global Gateway is in the Marian Kennedy Fischer Hall, on the northwest corner of Trafalgar Square.

Our scholar Darcia Narvaez, Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame and Advisory Board Member for the Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing, has organized the conference “Practicing Science: Virtues, Values, and the Good Life”.  The CFP is below.

The event will include a public lecture by Kristján Kristjánsson, also a scholar with our project, and Professor of Character Education and Virtue Ethics and Deputy Director of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues.

A keynote address will be presented by Prof. Michael Spezio, Associate Professor of Psychology at Scripps College and co-PI on a research grant of the Self, Motivation & Virtue Project, sponsored by the Templeton Religion Trust.
Practicing Science: Virtues, Values, and the Good Life
Sponsored by the Templeton Religion Trust
August 9-12, 2018
University of Notre Dame London Gateway
London, UK
Over the last several decades, virtue has attracted increased attention from philosophers, theologians, and psychologists. However, little of this research on virtue has attended to the development and function of virtue within scientific research and practice.

Since 2016, a multi-disciplinary research team at the University of Notre Dame, and funded by the Templeton Religion Trust, has been exploring the relationship between virtue and scientific practice with a particular focus on laboratory research in biology.

This conference will showcase the team’s findings, and we welcome proposals for contribute papers to enhance these discussions.

Potential research questions include:

  • How can the language of virtue enrich, change, or challenge our understanding of science?
  • Does the contemporary practice of scientific research require or bolster certain virtues (or vices)?
  • How can ideas drawn from virtue ethics or virtue epistemology illuminate (and perhaps improve) the training and mentoring of scientists?
Paper presentations will be 15 minutes, with an additional 10 minutes for discussion.

To submit a proposal, please send a title, abstract (no more than 250 words), and short c.v. to by February 2, 2018. Decisions about contributed proposals will be communicated to applicants by March 1, 2018.

Further details of the conference program can be found at

New and forthcoming books by our scholars

9781107155329Michael Gorman, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Catholic University of America is the author of Aquinas on the Metaphysics of the Hypostatic Union, June 2017, Cambridge University Press.

Kristján Kristjánsson, Deputy Director in the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues and Professor of Character Education and Virtue Ethics at the University of Birmingham, is the author of Virtuous Emotions, forthcoming in May 2018, Oxford University Press.

Heather C. Lench, Associate Professor & Department Head, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Texas A&M University, is an editor on the volume Functions of Emotion, Springer, in January 2018.


51fVH4MrJuL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg514VAhuihzL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgOwen Flanagan, James B. Duke Professor of Philosophy and Professor of Neurobiology at Duke University is the author of The Geography of Morals: Varieties of Moral PossibilityOxford University Press, 2017 and co-editor of The Moral Psychology of Anger, forthcoming from Rowman and Littlefield.




Nancy Snow, Director of the Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing, edited The Oxford Handbook of Virtue, Oxford University Press; it includes a chapter on Aquinas by Candace Vogler.


 Paul T. P. Wong,Founding President of the Meaning-Centered Counselling Institute, Inc., has a chapter in The Routledge International Handbook of Critical Positive Psychology, edited by Nicholas J. L. Brown, Tim Lomas, Francisco Jose Eiroa-Orosa. London, UK: Routledge.

Virtue and the Bonds of Love


Photo by Graeme Scott.

“A thing must be loved before it is loveable,” G. K. Chesterton once said.[1] Many of us want to know how we can become better people. We want to know how we can help our children and our students to become better people. Indeed, philosophers since Plato and Aristotle have been interested in how it is that people become virtuous, perhaps because, as Julia Annas puts it, “We cannot understand what virtue is without coming to understand how we acquire it.”[2] And although philosophers have largely ignored Chesterton’s insight,[3] he appears to have been exactly right, even prophetic.


Recent psychology suggests that an enormous factor in moral development—perhaps the great factor—is attachment. ‘Attachment’ is a fancy word for enduring love, the sort we see between parents and children, and in marriages and close friendships. None of us would want to live without such love. Few of us have ever lacked it completely, and the times we’re made to go without enough of it are oppressively painful, like going without sunlight or fresh air.


All of this is taken onboard by attachment theory, a research program in developmental psychology that aims at explaining the nature and significance of human attachments.[4] One of the major claims of attachment theory is that, through their early experiences with a caregiver, infants form an internal “map” of what they can expect from others. If, for instance, the caregiver is warm and attentive, the infant will write this down on his map. He will then use his map to go about future socializing. He will expect others to be warm and attentive. He will trust that, if he shows his needs to them, they will care. He will be, as the experts say, “securely attached”.


If, on the other hand, the caregiver is a lousy bum, the infant will expect others to be lousy bums. Perhaps he will decide that he had better rely on himself to get his needs met. He will be “insecurely attached”.


Of course, both the writing of the map and the using of it are unconscious processes, only entering consciousness as a whiff of anxiety here or a sigh of relief there. And this may sound like so much Freudian mysticism. But the “map” here is really just a stored mental representation, and it is by now commonplace that the brain unconsciously creates mental representations of how things are, that it uses these to make predictions, and that it begins to do so no later than when we come screaming into the world.[5]


Children who are securely attached have more of the stuff that virtues are made of. It is alarming, in fact. In a study from Jude Cassidy’s lab,[6] for example, researchers interviewed children using puppets (they say it’s for the kids). They ask the children questions that elicit self-reflection. They code their answers in one of three ways:

Perfect: No negative comments about the self at all.

Negative: Globally negative remarks about the self.

Flexible: Globally positive remarks about the self, mixed with specific negative remarks.

What they found? Securely attached children were more likely to talk about themselves in the flexible way. What this seems to suggest is that being securely attached means you are better able to love and respect yourself while admitting to specific ways you could improve.


It’s worth underlining this. Consider how important this ability is to personal growth. Indeed, one of the great challenges of human life is finding a way to admit one’s gruesome imperfections without being crushed by the shame of it. One meets many people who deal with this by only embracing one side of the dilemma. One tells the truth, and is crushed. Or one avoids the crushing but only through self-deceit. The trick is to tell the truth, the whole damn thing, without sentencing yourself to life without parole. (An analogous challenge arises when it comes to our love for others: How do we love them when we discover their vileness?)


The Cassidy study only scratches the surface. Here is a list of eleven other virtue-related areas where the securely attached are better off:[7]

  1. Self-worth[8]


  1. Realistic self-image[9]


  1. Emotion regulation[10]


  1. Cooperative problem solving[11]


  1. Self-reliance[12]


  1. Understanding of others’ needs and emotions[13]


  1. Understanding of one’s own needs and emotions[14]


  1. Acceptance of vulnerability[15]


  1. Resilience[16]


  1. Conscience development[17]


  1. Open and elaborative conversational style[18]


In light of this stunning list, it appears Chesterton was right: A thing must be loved before it is loveable. We must be loved before we are loveable. As Steinbeck writes, “underneath their topmost layers of frailty men want to be good and want to be loved. Indeed, most of their vices are attempted short cuts to love.”


One of the most sublime scenes in Peter Pan has Wendy telling the lost boys how she and her brothers came to the Neverland. The boys are concerned, though. Won’t their parents miss them? This is her response:

“If you knew how great is a mother’s love,” Wendy told them triumphantly, “you would have no fear. … You see,” Wendy said complacently, “our heroine knew that the mother would always leave the window open for her children to fly back by; so they stayed away for years and had a lovely time.”

Wendy, too, is prophetic. The world can be for us a Neverland, a place of enchantment and wonder, where good things run wild, only if we know there is someone who has left the window open for us.


There is a thorn in all this, given the many people who endure a fraught childhood followed by a lonely adulthood. Aristotle thought that it was through practicing the virtues that we acquire them. “We become just by doing just actions,” he says. Recently, Julia Annas has taken this up, drawing an analogy with learning the piano:


I need first to work out consciously what is the right thing to do and then get used to doing it over and over again. This goes on from learning notes to learning scales and arpeggios and then learning how to play sonatas. As I become a skilled piano player … I can play sonatas and other pieces in a way that, as with driving, proceeds without conscious thinking.[19]


Annas thinks acquiring virtues is like this, a view we might call the skill model. There is something right about the skill model, but something it leaves out as well. If you want to become virtuous, the research we’ve seen here suggests, not the practicing of the virtues, but the healing of the attachments. This is something done in therapy and by working towards healthy intimate relationships. Learning the virtues is like learning the piano, but many of us are playing with hands that have been broken and mangled. We do not need practice. We need rehab.



Annas, J., (2011), Intelligent Virtue, Oxford University Press.

Bowlby, J., (1980), Attachment and Loss, Vol. 3: Loss, Sadness, and Depression, New

York: Basic Books.

Cassidy, J., (1988), “Child-Mother Attachment and the Self in Six-Year-Olds”, Child

Development 59(1): 121-134.

Chesterton, G. K., (1909), Orthodoxy, New York: John Lane Company; London: John

Lane, The Bodley Head.

Clark, S., and D. Symons, (2000), “A Longitudinal Study of Mother-Child Relationships

and Theory of Mind in the Preschool Period”, Social Development 9(1): 3-23.

Colman, R., and R. Thompson, (2002), “Attachment Security and the Problem-Solving

Behaviors of Mothers and Children”, Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 48(4): 337-359.

Dykas, M., and J. Cassidy, (2011), “Attachment and the Processing of Social

Information across the Life Span: Theory and Evidence”, Psychological Bulletin

137(1): 19-46.

Fivush, R., Haden, C., and E. Reese, (2006), “Elaborating on Elaborations: Role of

Maternal Reminiscing Style in Cognitive and Socioemotional Development”,

Child Development 77(6): 1568-1588.

Goodvin, R., S. Meyer, R. Thompson, and R. Hayes, (2008), “Self-Understanding in

Early Childhood: Associations with Child Attachment Security and Maternal

Negative Affect”, Attachment and Human Development 10: 433-450.

Harcourt, E., (2013), “Attachment Theory, Character, and Naturalism”, Ethics in

Contemporary Perspective, Julia Peters (ed.), New York: Routledge.

Kobak, R., Cole, H., Ferenz-Gillies, R., Fleming, W., and W. Gamble, (1993),

“Attachment and Emotion Regulation during Mother-Teen Problem Solving: A Control Theory Analysis”, Child Development 64(1): 231-245.

Laible, D., and R. Thompson, (2000), “Mother-Child Discourse, Attachment Security,

Shared Positive Affect, and Early Conscience Development”, Child Development 71(5): 1424-40.

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[1] Chesterton (1909), p. 89.

[2] Annas, (2011), p. 21.

[3] An important exception is Harcourt (2013).

[4] See, for instance, Bowlby (1980).

[5] LeDoux (1996), Ch. 7.

[6] Cassidy (1988).

[7] I’m offering here a laundry list. Naturally, some psychologists have developed more systematic views that incorporate data in this area; see, for instance, Narvaez (2016) and Thompson (2015).

[8] Colman and Thompson (2002); Goodvin et al. (2008); Sroufe (1983).

[9] Clark and Symons (2000); Dykas and Cassidy (2011).

[10] Kobak et al. (1993); Mikulincer et al. (2003) et al.; Waters et al. (2010).

[11] Raikes and Thompson (2008); Raikes et al. (2013).

[12] Sroufe et al. (1983); Thompson (2000).

[13] Laible and Thompson (1998); Pollak (2008).

[14] Openhaim and Koren-Karie (2009).

[15] Mikulincer and Shaver (2008).

[16] Colman and Thompson (2002).

[17] Kochanska et al. (2004); Laible and Thompson (2000)

[18] Fivush et al. (2006); Reese (2002).

[19] Annas (2011), p. 13.

Brian Ballard recently earned his doctorate from the philosophy department at the University of Pittsburgh. His work address the nature of emotion and its role in the good life, and he was a participant in the 2016 summer seminar “Virtue & Happiness” for the Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life project.