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The dimensions of prosociality: a cross-cultural lexical analysis


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The West is usually portrayed as relatively individualistic. It is further argued that this tendency has influenced academia, leading to an underappreciation of the importance of prosociality. In the interest of exploring this topic, an enquiry was conducted into conceptualisations of prosociality across the world’s cultures. This enquiry focused on so-called untranslatable words, i.e., which lack an exact translation into another language (in this case, English). Through a quasi-systematic search of academic and grey literature, together with additional data collection, over 200 relevant terms were located. An adapted form of grounded theory identified five dimensions: socialising/congregating; morals/ethics; compassion/kindness; interaction/communication; and communality. The analysis sheds light on the dynamics of prosociality, as understood by cultures across the globe. Moreover, the roster of terms featured have the potential to enrich the nomological network in psychology, allowing for a richer conceptualisation of the social dimensions of human functioning.
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The dimensions of prosociality: A cross-cultural lexical analysis
Current psychology
Note: This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in Current Psychology. It is not the copy
of record.
Dr. Tim Lomas
University of East London
Telephone: 020 8223 4465
The West is usually portrayed relatively individualistic. It is further argued that this tendency
has influenced academia, leading to an underappreciation of the importance of prosociality.
In the interest of exploring this topic, an enquiry was conducted into conceptualisations of
prosociality across the world’s cultures. The enquiry focused on so-called untranslatable
words, i.e., which lack an exact translation into another language (in this case, English).
Through a quasi-systematic search of academic and grey literature, together with additional
data collection, over 200 relevant terms were located. An adapted form of grounded theory
identified five dimensions: socialising/congregating; morals/ethics; compassion/kindness;
interaction/communication; and communality. The analysis sheds light on the dynamics of
prosociality, as understood by cultures across the globe. Moreover, the roster of terms
featured have the potential to enrich the nomological network in psychology, allowing for a
richer conceptualisation of the social dimensions of human functioning.
Keywords: prosociality; social psychology; cross-cultural; language.
The dimensions of prosociality: A cross-cultural lexical analysis
Neglecting Prosociality
It is often suggested that the “West to the extent that such a construct is valid (which is
debatable, as discussed below) is relatively individualistic (Becker & Marecek, 2008).
Individualism captures a view of the self that is thought to have emerged over the last few
centuries in the West, namely, that it exists as a bounded, unique, more or less integrated
motivational and cognitive universe” (Geertz, 1983, p.59). This perspective derives from the
influence of thinkers like Descartes (1641), whose conclusion cogito ergo sum was pivotal in
establishing the reification of the disengaged first-person-singular self” (Taylor, 1995, p.59),
to the extent that this individualised sense of self is frequently referred to as the “Cartesian I.”
Such perspectives do generally acknowledge that other people exist excepting philosophies
such as solipsism but only either as external objects or interior mental representations.
Thus, in more individualistic societies, people are liable to be seen (and to see
themselves) primarily as isolated units, beholden unto themselves, and perhaps a few close
friends and relatives. As a result, theorists argue that people in such societies tend to overlook
the important of connecting and belonging. Moreover, it is argued that many Western
societies have become more individualistic recently, especially places like the UK and USA,
with Putnam (1995) for instance noting the “strange disappearance of social capital” in the
latter. (Social capital is defined by Bourdieu (1986, p.248) as the sum total of the resources,
actual or virtual, that accrue to an individual (or a group) by virtue of being enmeshed in a
durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and
recognition.”) This individualistic sense of selfhood has influenced the view of the person in
contemporary psychology, which is perhaps not surprising since such fields are inherently
culturally situated (as discussed further below), even if this is not often acknowledged by
scholars within these (Becker & Marecek, 2008). This tendency is reflected in the myriad
constructs prefixed by “self,” from self-esteem to self-determination. It is not simply that the
main object of concern in psychology is the individual. Rather, it is that people are seen as
fundamentally unique, autonomous, and self-contained. The social, to the extent that it is
recognised at all, tends to then be constructed as an aggregation of individuals (Harrington,
Individualism is often defined in opposition to the notion of collectivist cultures, of
which Eastern countries tend to be used as exemplars. The distinction was originally
developed to address differences at a societal level (Hofstede, 1980). However, Markus and
Kitayama’s (1991, p.224) work on self-construals explored the impact of such societal
configurations on individual self-identity. Their theorising suggested that people in the West
tend to view themselves primarily as autonomous atomistic units. In contrast, Eastern cultures
are seen as emphasising the importance of attending to others, fitting in, and harmonious
interdependence. As Triandis (2001, p.907) puts it, people in collectivist cultures are more
likely to “define themselves as aspects of groups’ and to ‘give priority to in-group goals.”
That said, it could be argued that this individualist-collectivist distinction is simply the latest
incarnation of the “East-West” orientalising discourse identified by Said (1995). Just as with
the East-West distinction itself, it arguably homogenises and obscures myriad differences at a
local level, neglecting the fact that “the East” possesses its own strains of individualism while
“the West” has its own collectivist traditions (and also places that place relatively more of an
emphasis on communality, like Scandinavia) (Hyyppä & Mäki, 2003). Indeed, an influential
evaluation and meta-analysis by Oyserman, Coon, and Kemmelmeier (2002), reviewing 50
studies, has called into question the validity of the individualist-collectivist distinction (or at
least the possibility of unproblematically categorising countries as such). For instance, while
European Americans were reported to be more individualistic (e.g., valuing personal
independence) and less collectivistic (e.g., feeling duty to in-groups) than some other
cultures, they were not more individualistic than African Americans or Latinos, nor less
collectivistic than Japanese or Koreans. As such, although the individualist-collectivist
distinction has to an extent corroborated in numerous studies (Taras, Kirkman, & Steel,
2010), one must be wary of designating entire societies or even larger aggregations (e.g.,
West vs. East) as either individualistic or collectivistic.
With that caveat in mind though, one might wonder why it matters if some societies
such as the USA nevertheless appear to tend more towards individualism than others. One
answer is that individualism is widely seen as being detrimental to health and wellbeing (or to
put that in positive terms, health and wellbeing are strongly influenced by factors such as
social capital). By way of example, Hyyppä and Mäki (2003) conducted a striking analysis in
Finland, comparing a Finnish-speaking majority population with a Swedishspeaking
minority. Although the two communities are similar in most respects (e.g., genetic profile,
socioeconomic status, education, use of health services, environmental stimuli, etc.), there are
remarkable disparities in morbidity, disability and mortality, with the average age at death for
Swedish-speaking men being 77.9, against 69.2 for Finnish-speaking men. The authors
suggest these dramatic inequalities cannot be explained by conventional healthrelated risk
factors, but derive from much greater levels of social capital among the Swedish-speaking
minority. Such examples could be multiplied at length. Moreover, this study also highlights
the issues with categorising societies as individualistic or collectivistic, as it demonstrates
that there can be considerable within-country heterogeneity (i.e., at the level of communities)
with respect to individualism or collectivism.
Nevertheless, one could make the case that it would be beneficial for societies that are
relatively individualistic to become less so. Relatedly, academic psychology would also do
well to develop a greater appreciation and understanding of the value of prosociality which
Taylor and Wood (2014, p.1427) define broadly as a positive orientation towards one’s
social context. Here we return to the point above that an individualistic sense of selfhood has
influenced the view of the person in contemporary psychology. That is, psychology generally
has inevitably been influenced by the cultural contexts in which it has been practiced. In that
sense, one can identify multiple “ethnopsychologies” across the globe, from the transnational
(e.g., “Western ethnopsychology”; Wierzbicka, 1989) to the subnational (e.g., “Ifaluk
ethnopsychology”; Lutz, 1985). However, since the Second World War, due to the hegemony
of the USA, American ethnopsychology has come to dominate the field as a whole i.e.,
academic psychology as an international endeavour to the extent that it is often regarded
uncritically as psychology in toto (Danziger, 1985, 2006). This has meant that concepts,
ideologies, priorities, and methods associated with American psychology have come to
dominate the international scene. One aspect of this dominance is that (American) English
has become the default language for the field (e.g., constituting most of its literature and
discourse). Consequently, most of its ideas and theories are structured around the contours of
the English language, and biased by the ideological and economic traditions associated with
the USA (Becker & Marecek, 2008). Thus, to the extent that the USA is individualistic, such
individualism can be seen as permeating the field of psychology as a whole.
As such, the field would benefit from enriching its conceptual understanding and
relatedly its lexicon of prosocial processes and phenomena. One way of doing so is through
studying non-English languages, particularly (but not exclusively) those of cultures regarded
as less individualistic. Many cultures including some non-English-speaking Western ones,
like the Nordic nations are thought to have developed a greater appreciation of prosociality,
and its importance for health and wellbeing. Thus, this paper endeavours to investigate cross-
cultural perspectives on prosociality, doing so by exploring so-called untranslatable words.
Untranslatable Words
This paper draws on recent work by Lomas (2016), who is developing a lexicography of
untranslatable words. While untranslatability is a contested phenomenon, it essentially refers
to a word that does not appear to have an equivalent word/phrase in a given other language.
The interest in such words is manifold. To begin with, they can assist in understanding other
cultures, offering insights into their values, conceptualisations, traditions, and ways of being
(Wierzbicka, 1997). The theoretical context here is the linguistic relativity hypothesis (LRH)
also popularly known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, following the influential work of
Sapir (1929) and Whorf (1940) which holds that language influences how people
experience and understand the world. The stronger version of this hypothesis is linguistic
determinism, whereby language is seen as inextricably constituting thought. In contrast, the
milder version simply asserts that language shapes thought and experience. In relation to
untranslatable words, the stronger deterministic view suggests that only people enmeshed in
the culture that produced a given word can truly understand or experience the phenomenon
that the word signifies (Taylor, 1985). However, the milder relativistic perspective holds that
such words are to an extent accessible to people outside the culture, holding some potential
universal relevance. This latter point highlights a second vital element of interest regarding
untranslatable words: beyond just being informative vis-à-vis the culture that created a given
word, such words enrich other lexicons. Indeed, cultures “borrowing” words from one
another is central to language development. For instance, of the more than 600,000 lexemes
in the OED, the percentage of borrowed words is estimated to be as high as 41% (Tadmor,
2009). Such borrowings are known as “loanwords,” although more specific terminology has
also been developed to reflect varying levels of assimilation into the host language (Durkin,
Of particular interest here is why words are borrowed. Haspelmath (2009) identifies
two main reasons: “core” versus “cultural” borrowings. The former is when a loanword
replicates a word that already exists (i.e., with a similar meaning) in the recipient language.
The tends to happen for sociolinguistic reasons, e.g., cultural capital associated with using
foreign words. This type of borrowing, while interesting, is not of concern here. However, the
second category of cultural borrowing is central. This occurs when the recipient language
lacks its own word for a referent (e.g., if a new invention, practice, or idea is introduced to a
culture). Thus, the loanword is used for pragmatic reasons: it is cognitive and socially useful,
allowing speakers to articulate concepts they had previously struggled to (Blank, 1999). In
Lehrer’s (1974, p.105) terminology, such words fill “semantic gaps,” i.e., “the lack of a
convenient word to express what [one] wants to speak about.” It is such semantic gaps that
makes a given word untranslatable, indicating phenomena that have been overlooked or
undervalued by one’s own culture, but which another culture has identified and labelled.
Thus, a central premise of Lomas lexicography is that such words can enrich the
English lexicon, and moreover augment the nomological network of concepts in psychology.
There are numerous reasons why such augmentation is desirable, foremost among which is
that, as argued above, from a critical perspective academic psychology tends to be relatively
Western-centric (Becker & Marecek, 2008). Thus, the current paper aims to provide a more
comprehensive understanding of prosociality through the study of relevant untranslatable
Initial Review
In the original paper establishing the basis of the lexicography, Lomas (2016) identified 216
untranslatable words pertaining to wellbeing, located through a “quasi-systematic” review of
academic and grey literature (quasi in that there was insufficient material in academic
journals to permit a true systematic review, utilising conventional academic databases).
Readers interested in the details of the process are encouraged to consult this original paper;
suffice it to say here that the search protocols had several different elements (e.g., including
examining the first 20 websites returned when entering “untranslatable words” into Google).
Once the 216 words had been identified, appropriately robust definitions were sought though
several sources, including on-line dictionaries, peer-reviewed academic sources (across all
fields of academia), and bilingual colleagues. The words and their definitions were then
analysed using a variation of grounded theory (GT), a qualitative methodology which allows
theory to emerge inductively from the data (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). It was a GT variant in
that it followed its three main coding stages (open, axial, and selective). In a process of open
coding, the data words and their definitions were examined for emergent themes. This
phase was assisted by other GT processes such as memoing and initial theorising. Axial
coding then involved comparing themes in a process of constant comparison, and grouping
them into categories based on conceptual similarity. Six main categories were produced,
which in turn were paired into three meta-categories: feelings (positive and ambivalent),
relationships (love and pro-sociality), and development (character and spirituality). Finally,
selective coding saw the identification of a single “core” category, which in that case was
wellbeing. Although applying GT to a lexical data-set in this way might perhaps be regarded
as somewhat unconventional, there is considerable heterogeneity in the studies purporting to
use GT (Cutcliffe, 2005), and arguably it is sufficiently aligned with GT principles to be
considered one such example.
Subsequent Data Collection and Analysis
Following Lomas’s (2016) initial paper, the lexicography has since expanded to nearly 1,000
words. This has partly occurred through crowd-sourced contributions to a website created to
host the project (, and partly through follow-up enquiries
by the current author via “conceptual snowballing.” Of the nearly 800 words collected since
the initial paper, approximately 500 have been provided by website visitors, and 300 through
conceptual snowballing. The term snowballing derives from recruitment, where participants
facilitate the participation of additional people. This metaphor has been borrowed to reflect
the way enquiries into an untranslatable word might lead the researcher to encounter related
concepts. For instance, although nearly 100 languages are represented in the lexicography
currently, many words are taken from a select group that are especially well-studied in
psychologically-oriented literature, comprising Chinese, French, German, Greek, Japanese,
Pāli, and Sanskrit. Thus, an enquiry into a word from these languages would often lead the
researcher to a text in which related words are discussed (which would then be added to the
In adding a word whether through website suggestions or snowballing the same
checking procedures were followed as in the initial paper. Definitions were sought through
means including on-line dictionaries, academic sources, and bilingual colleagues. Moreover,
once the words and their definitions had been added to the lexicography, they were accessible
on the website for public inspection. In some instances, people with knowledge of the word
and language in question provided feedback, suggesting a refined or augmented definition of
the word. (Of the nearly 2,000 emails to the website so far, around 300 have related and led
to the amending of a definition.) This peer and public feedback provides a further credibility
check (which is valued in GT).
It should be noted that this subsequent phase of data collection cannot be regarded as
systematic (not even in the “quasi-systematic” sense of the original paper). The lexicography
is an evolving work-in-progress. After all, some 7,000 languages exist worldwide, and it is
unlikely that one research project could study them all and retrieve their relevant words.
However, that does not mean one cannot usefully analyse the lexicography’s existing words
and emergent themes/categories, even if such analyses are incomplete and subject to revision.
Indeed, the addition of 800 or so new words has not altered the overall thematic structure
created in the original paper, with the words being accommodated within its framework of
meta-categories and categories. As such, subsequent work on the expanded lexicography has
resulted in publications focusing on five of the six categories identified in the original paper
(with the current paper constituting the sixth), namely: positive emotions (Lomas, 2017b),
ambivalent emotions (Lomas, 2018e), love (Lomas, 2018c), character (Lomas, 2018d), and
spirituality (Lomas, 2018b). It has also generated a theoretical paper which outlines the
significance of untranslatable words, particularly their value to psychology (e.g., in terms of
expanding its nomological network) (Lomas, 2018a).
Following on from these publications, the current paper focuses on the category of
prosociality, which comprises over 200 words at present. This is one of two categories
included in the meta-category of relationships, alongside love. Whereas love encompasses
close bonds with select others, prosociality concerns relationships with people “in general”
(e.g., one’s local community). As with love though, it has a positive inflection (rather than
simply describing any form of relationship), as reflected in Taylor and Wood (2014, p.1427)
definition as “a positive orientation towards one’s social context. Thus is, the words do not
merely relate to the social domain per se, but in some way can be interpreted as reflective or
encouraging of prosocial behaviours or attitudes. These words were once again analysed
using the GT variation developed in Lomas’ (2016) original paper. The data again comprised
the set of words and their definitions, which had been refined and checked in the ways
outlined above (e.g., consulting dictionaries, peer-reviewed sources, and bilingual speakers,
together with website feedback). In the first stage of open coding, words and their definitions
were examined for thematic content. Next, words were grouped together through constant
comparison into 18 thematic codes (referred to below as “sub-themes”), which were
themselves in turn aggregated into five themes. This process could be described as somewhat
intuitive since, unlike in factor analysis (with its recourse to statistical techniques), choosing
which thematic structure provides the “best fit” for the data mainly relies on the researcher’s
informed judgement (with the author being the sole researcher). Thus, it is acknowledged that
this analytic process is somewhat idiosyncratic, shaped by the author’s personal inclinations
and perspectives; other researchers may have configured and labelled the themes differently,
based on their own situatedness and reading of the data. Finally, a single “core” category was
generated, namely prosociality (although this category had been in mind from the start of the
analysis, so it cannot be deemed a truly inductively-derived core category).
Results and Discussion
The words analysed fell into five broad themes: socialising/congregating; morals/ethics;
compassion/kindness; interaction/communication; and communality. These are illustrated in
figure 1 below, which includes their subthemes, together with an illustrative word for each
subtheme. Themes and subthemes are discussed in turn below, featuring a selection of
relevant words.
Figure 1. The main themes, with sub-themes and illustrative words
Socialising / Congregating
This first theme addresses the phenomena of socialising and congregating. One might argue
that these are not necessarily prosocial in themselves. However, per the definition from
Taylor and Wood (2014, p.1427) drawn on here a positive orientation towards one’s social
context” – one might suggest that unless a person is compelled to congregate with others,
there is at least some degree of prosocial attitude underlying their decision to socialise.
Some words here depict forms of social occasions and activities that have developed
in particular cultures. Consider for instance French, which has provided two loanwords,
soireé (a relatively cultured evening party, often centred around music or conversation), and
apéritif (technically a drink taken before dinner, but also covers the occasion itself). Spanish
Socialising / Congregating
Cultural activities (e.g., soireé)
Festive occasions (e.g., ramé)
Symbolic traditions (e.g., Purim)
Compassion / Kindness
Empathic care (e.g., omoiyari)
Well-wishing (e.g., muditā)
Hospitality (e.g., melmastia)
Common humanity (e.g., ubuntu)
likewise has similar words. For instance, tertulia refers to a social gathering, or even just a
conversation, with literary or artistic overtones, and thus has parallels with soireé. Relatively
less refined is a botellón (literally big bottle), which describes people congregating in
public to socialise while drinking alcohol. Besides labels for different types of gatherings,
there are numerous words pertaining to forms and experiences of revelry. For example, the
Balinese term ramé is used to describe parties that are particularly festive, tumultuous and
lively (and boisterous social occasions more generally) (Geertz, 1973, p.446).
Such examples could be multiplied at length, but are sufficient to allude to the
diversity of terms pertaining to socialising. Moreover, the European terms in particular
illustrate the point that words relating to congregating/socializing and prosociality more
broadly are not only found within countries typically regarded as collectivist. (Indeed,
English itself is replete with such terms; yet it still lacks others which are found in other
languages which are thereby untranslatable hence the value of this analysis.) After all,
both France and Spain, as Western countries, are widely characterised as individualistic
(Hofstede, 1980), even if the picture is somewhat complicated (since, (a) in relative terms,
they are less so than places like the USA (Delgado, 2011), and (b) there are individualist and
collectivist traditions within these countries (Green, 1978)). Including words from such
languages thus reinforces the point that this analysis is not simply about selecting terms from
cultures regarded as collectivist especially since such labels are problematic (Oyserman et
al., 2002). Rather, the point is to augment the nomological network in psychology and the
English lexicon more broadly with untranslatable terms pertaining to prosociality across all
languages (not only those from cultures usually characterised as collectivist).
In addition to these more light-hearted examples, there are many traditions/customs
relating to congregating bringing people together for some purpose that hold deep cultural
significance. Many are connected to particular religions; indeed, so influential are religions in
many cultures influencing and shaping most aspects of life that it is effectively impossible
to disentangle religious and social practices. Thus, across the world’s languages, there are
words relating to religious practices that bring people together. It would be far beyond the
scope of this paper to cover all such practices. So, by way of example, this section will just
highlight one religion that is particularly abundant in such customs, namely Judaism. The
selection of this tradition also reinforces the point, made above, that this analysis is not
limited to terms from collectivist cultures. After all, Jewish people and relatedly, speakers
of Hebrew are integral members of countries typically regarded as individualist, like the
USA. Societies are heterogenous, and even those characterised as individualistic will contain
within them traditions and communities that place a strong emphasis on communality.
Even just limiting the focus here to this one faith, it would not be possible to discuss
its entire rich tapestry of social traditions. As such, two shall be mentioned both quite
different, and which both embed various customs within them to give a sense of this
richness. First, on a more revelrous note, aligning with the festive words above, is the annual
festival of Purim, commemorating the saving of the Jewish people from a figure named
Haman, as recounted in the Book of Esther. (The name is possibly the plural of pūr, meaning
lot, alluding to the drawing of lots by Haman, although this interpretation is contested;
Prouser, 2013). It is generally a joyous occasion, marked customs including: mishloach
manot (literally ‘sending of portions’), i.e., exchanging gifts of food and drink; matanot
l'evyonim (‘gifts to the poor’), i.e., charitable donations; seudat Purim (Purim feast); keriat
hamegillah (‘reading of the scroll, i.e., Book of Esther); and al hanissim (‘on the miracles’),
i.e., post-meal prayers.
The joyousness of Purim is contrasted with the gravity of Shiv'ah, the Hebrew word
for seven, which denotes the week-long period of mourning prescribed in Judaism, a ritual
known as sitting Shiv'ah.” Upon a burial, first degree relatives assume the status of avel, or
mourner. Friends, relatives, and the community then visit to pay a Shiv'ah call, providing
comfort and solace, as well as supportive necessities. This practice, also known as Nichum
aveilim “comforting the mourner” is regarded as a great mitzvah. Mitzvah in itself is an
important term, meaning commandment or law, thereby implying a good deed (in accordance
with Jewish ethics). Readers may recognise the term from the practices of Bar and Bat
mitzvah, the ceremonies marking the “coming of age” of boys and girls. Bar and bat mean
son and daughter respectively, so according to Judiac law, the ceremony marks the occasion
when young people are regarded as accountable for their actions, becoming sons/daughters
of the law. This point leads into the next section: as per mitzvah, there are a wealth of
prosocial words pertaining to morals and ethics.
Morals / Ethics
Across the world’s cultures, many different systems of morals/ethics have been developed,
giving rise to numerous untranslatable words. Morals/ethics are relevant to prosociality for
two main reasons: (a) they are created via prosocial processes, and (b) they concern, in part,
prosocial behaviour.
With regard to (a), morals (from the Latin mōres, connoting norms, custom, tradition),
are beliefs and practices about right and wrong that are dominant in a community. Ethics
(from the Greek ethikos, meaning custom or usage) are then the codification of such morals
by a group on the basis of mutual and usually reciprocal recognition” (Hazard Jr, 1994,
p.453). With regard to (b), morals/ethics cover many areas of life, not only those relating to
prosociality per se, such as dietary and culinary prescriptions. However, many moral/ethical
guidelines do pertain to prosociality, elucidating the ways in which we should ideally interact
and treat each other. Before considering some examples of these prescriptions, it would be
useful to consider why morality is important. Underlying their specific precepts, many
religions/cultures have developed foundational theories about morality itself, i.e., why it
matters. By way of example, as with Judaism above, this section will focus on one tradition
that has a particularly rich lexicon in this regard: Buddhism. Besides its richness, Buddhism
has been selected for attention here due to its prominence in the lexicography, to which it has
contributed numerous terms through conceptual snowballing (as a result of the personal
interests of the author, a practising Buddhist). It should nevertheless be remembered that
most religions/spiritual traditions have their own moral/ethical frameworks, even if these
have mostly not yet been incorporated into the lexicography, and which would likely
introduce further nuance and complexity to this theme (since traditions are not identical).
At the heart of Buddhism is a doctrine known in Sanskrit as pratītyasamutpāda. This
translates as the law of conditionality or dependent origination, articulating the Buddha’s
insight into the causal nature of the universe (Shulman, 2008). In Buddhist philosophy, this is
arguably the meta law that underpins all other laws. For instance, it is the basis for another
central Buddhist teaching, catvāri āryasatyāni, or the four noble truths. The first truth is
dukha (suffering or dissatisfaction), which refers in this context to the idea that life is
inherently pervaded by this quality. Second is samudaya (origin or cause), which refers here
to the cause of suffering, namely craving and attachment. Third is nirodha (cessation), which
refers to the ending of dukha by ceasing to crave and attach to phenomena. Fourth is marga
(path), which refers to the way one can cease craving/attachment, which in Buddhism is the
ashtangika (i.e., “Eightfold” path, elucidated further below).
Understanding pratītyasamutpāda is seen as the key to wellbeing, and ultimately to
nirvāṇa (awakening and consequent freedom from suffering). As Sangharakshita and Subhuti
(2013, p.49) put it, once we have understood and are fully convinced about the nature of
reality as [pratītyasamutpāda], we align ourselves with those regularities or laws that lead us
to liberation. This law has been expounded upon in various ways in Buddhist literature. One
influential analysis by Buddhaghosa in the 5th Century C.E. identifies five levels of
conditionality, known as the fivefold niyāma (laws, conditions or constraints that govern
processes or phenomena; Keown, 2003). These delineate five domains of life that are
subject to causal law-like principles, each of which is delineated by a different prefix.
The first prefix is utu, which means seasons; thus utu-niyāma refers to the law of the
seasons, i.e., the regularity of environmental phenomena. Regarded anachronistically (in the
context of contemporary understanding), this refers to non-organic physical laws (e.g., the
law of gravity). Second, bīja refers to the law of seeds, i.e., patterns in the realm of organic
phenomena (e.g., genetic inheritance of phenotypes). Third, citta is the law of the mind,
describing causal patterns among mental events. Fourth, karma concerns causality with
respect to ethics/morality (as discussed further shortly). Finally, dharma is the law of
nature, which in this context refers to the spiritual potential inherent in the universe (e.g., its
capacity to produce sentient beings who can make spiritual progress).
This framework has subsequently been deployed in Buddhism as a basis and rationale
for morals/ethics. Of particular relevance are the last two niyāma. Firstly, there is notion of
karma. This differs subtly from some other religious notions of ethical justice, such as the
Christian notions of sin, in that it requires no supernatural agency/being to administer it
(reinforcing the point that traditions are not identical in terms of their conceptualisations and
frameworks.) It rather holds that we are rewarded or punished, in a causal sense, by our
actions, in that ethical actions are likely to lead to positive future outcomes and states of
mind, and unethical ones to negative outcomes and states. Thus, it offers a potent rationale
for acting morally: not only do moral acts benefit the recipient, and the community at large
both of which are conventionally given as reasons for morality but the actor too (Kang,
2009). This motivation then blends into the final level of causality, the dharma niyāma.
Buddhism holds that if one cultivates ethical actions denoted by the adjective kusala,
meaning skilful the potential result is not merely happiness. Ultimately, dharma niyāma
is a statement of the more radical possibility that the Eightfold path can ultimately lead one to
bodhi awakening or enlightenment and subsequent nirvāṇa. With that goal in mind,
Buddhism then specifies what constitutes skilful/ethical behaviour through various precepts,
most of which pertain to treatment of other people (hence their relevance here).
To begin with, three aspects of the Eightfold path are specifically concerned with sīla
(morality). All eight aspects are prefixed by samyag, meaning right, correct, or most
evocatively, best. Thus, pertaining to morality specifically, this prefix is appended to vāc
(speech), karmānta (action), and ājīva (livelihood). (Of the remaining five, two pertain to
prajñā (wisdom): dṛṣṭi (view) and sakalpa (resolve). Finally, three pertain to meditation:
vyāyāma (effort), smti (mindfulness), and samādhi (concentration).) Then, elaborating on the
strands of morality are numerous lists of precepts, specifying in detail what right speech,
action and livelihood consist of. The most widely known and followed are the pañcaśīlāni
(five precepts”), whereby practitioners vow to refrain from various harmful behaviours. The
first is pāṇātipātā, i.e., harming/killing living beings (or, couched in more positive terms, one
might commit to maitrī, usually translated as loving-kindness or care). Second, adinnādānā,
i.e., taking the not given (or phrased positively, committing to dana, i.e., generosity). Third
is kāmesu micchācāra, i.e., sexual or sensual misconduct (or positively, commiting to the
cultivation of santosha, i.e., contentment). Fourth is musāvādā, i.e., false speech (or put
positively, committing to satya, or truthfulness). The final precept is surāmerayamajja
pamādaṭṭhānā, i.e., unmindful states related to alcohol or drugs (or positively, the cultivation
of smti, i.e., mindfulness)
Thus, most of these precepts relate, directly or indirectly, to people’s relationships
with others. Having set out an example of a general theory of morals/ethics using Buddhism
as a case study subsequent themes feature specific examples of prosocial behaviours that
are encouraged by various cultures. Many pertain to compassion and kindness, as the next
section explores.
Compassion / Kindness
The section above introduced ethics/morality by exploring theoretical principles that explain
why these are considered important. Since it would be beyond the scope of this paper to
consider such principles from all the world’s cultures, Buddhism was used as a case study,
since it is particularly rich in this regard (and is of personal interest to the author). There we
encountered examples of specific forms of action regarded as constitutive of ethics/morality,
such as the five precepts. Arguably, at least two of these directly relate to this current
theme: maitrī (loving-kindness), and dāna (generosity). Similar terms can be found across the
world’s languages. Maitrī has parallels with agape, which in classical Greece denoted
benevolence, charity and goodwill. The term features extensively in Greek versions of the
Bible (rendered in English translations as charity), where it is portrayed as the unconditional
love that God holds towards humanity, and which followers are themselves exhorted to
emulate (love thy neighbour). Indeed, it is elevated as pre-eminent among the virtues: in
the words of St. Paul, So faith, hope, love [agape] abide, these three; but the greatest of
these is love.” Notions comparable to agape and maitrī are found in many cultures/traditions,
such as the Jewish notion of gemilut hasadim, often rendered as the bestowal or acts of
loving-kindness (or alternatively as grace or mercy).
Such terms are augmented by those denoting forms of compassion. This is itself a
loanword, derived from the Latin com (with) and pati (to suffer), thus implying a shared
suffering. In this sense, it has parallels with its kinship loanwords empathy and sympathy,
both of which have their origins in Greek. (However, they had different routes into English:
sympathy arrived via Latin in the 16th Century, while empathy did not appear until the 20th
century, travelling via Latin and then the German term Einfühlung, which translates as “into
feeling.) In its original Greek context, pathos could mean suffering, but also more broadly
emotion or even experience. The prefix em- then denotes “in,” while sym (sun in the original
Greek) denotes “with.” Empathy and sympathy thus respectively describe sharing in or with
another person’s feelings, processes which are reflected in a range of untranslatable words.
There are terms describing empathic awareness, like the Japanese omoiyari, which
Hara (2006, p.24) defines as altruistic sensitivity. As per empathy and sympathy, it depicts
an intuitive understanding of others’ plight; however, it also implies consequent altruistic
action (which does not necessarily follow with empathy/sympathy). Some terms refer to
empathically sharing sorrows/pains in particular, such as the Hebrew noun koev halev, which
means the heart aches. Others refer to vicarious embarrassment akin to cringing
including Fremdschämen in German, myötähäpeä in Finnish, and pena ajena in Spanish.
Conveying a more general concern for others is the Māori verb and noun aroha; although
sometimes rendered as mutuality, this translation lacks the warmth implied in the original
(which can also be translated simply as love).
Conversely, some terms describe sharing others’ positive emotions, a usage which
tends not to happen with compassion, empathy and sympathy (which are usually deployed in
relation to dysphoria). For instance, the Sanskrit term muditā translates as sympathetic or
vicarious happiness, and is valorised in Therevada Buddhism as one of the four brahma-
vihārās. (The latter translates as abodes of brahma, with Brahma being the Vedic term for
the creator or creative power of the universe. The phrase denotes four qualities qualified by
the adjective apramāṇa, meaning immeasurable or boundless that practitioners are
encouraged to cultivate, the others being maitrī, introduced above, karuṇā (compassion) and
upeksha (equanimity).) Somewhat similarly, the Hebrew noun nachat, or naches in Yiddish,
describes pride and joy in relation to another’s accomplishment (usually family members), as
does the Yiddish verb kvell derived from an old Germanic verb meaning to “well up”
which specifically captures the process of overtly expressing these feelings. Relatedly, the
Dutch verb gunnen articulates the feeling that a person deserves something positive (and
deriving satisfaction from them attaining it).
Words relating to compassion blend with those concerning kindness. Kindness itself
has a revealing etymology: it derives from the Old English cynde, which relates to the notion
of kin. Thus, the term kindness originally described the type of affection that ideally exist
between people who are kin, or are of the same “kind” (e.g., clan). However, its usage began
to take on a more expansive quality, such that one might aim to bestow this kindness on
people in general (as perhaps a more modest and achievable version of agape). Valorisation
of kindness is found in ubuntu, from Zulu (and other Bantu languages), which recognises that
all people are kin by virtue of their common humanity; as Desmond Tutu puts it, It speaks of
the fact that my humanity is caught up and inextricably bound up in yours (cited in Bowen,
2014, p.83). These sentiments are echoed in other words which likewise elevate such
qualities into an ideal or norm that is central to the culture. For instance, for the Pashtun of
Afghanistan and Pakistan, a central tenet of their ethical code known as Pashtunwali is
melmastia, the moral obligation and honour in offering sanctuary and hospitality to all,
without expectation of recompense (Ambreen & Mohyuddin, 2013). Similar ideas are
expressed by the Greek xenia, which denotes guest-friendship, and the Hebrew hachnasat
orchim, which translates as ‘welcoming the stranger’ (Blumberg, 2006, p.724). Although in
one sense these terms can be rendered simply as hospitality, this rather emotionless word
fails to capture the significance of these ideals in their respective cultures.
For instance, hachnasat orchim is another Judaic mitzvah, and intersects with a related
mitzvah known as tzedaka. While this can be rendered as charity, it incorporates a moral
obligation that is not usually present in this English term (e.g., tzedaka is derived from the
root Tzadei-Dalet-Qof, meaning righteousness, justice or fairness). As such, rather than a case
of magnanimity, there is the implication that charitable giving is one’s duty, arising out of
concern with essential justice (Feingold, 1987). The importance of treating others well is
similarly captured by the Chinese noun guān xì. However, this has a slightly different
rationale compared to tzedaka; in contrast to the vaguely legalistic connotations of the latter
terms, guān xì taps into ideas of karma, whereby one does good deeds and thus might
reasonably expect favours or goodwill in return. Relatedly, if one is in receipt of good deeds,
ēn describes a moral indebtedness, and a subsequent sense of duty. These terms relating to
the give-and-take of social relationships overlap with the next theme, which describes a more
general process of skilful interaction and communication.
Interaction / Communication
This next theme speaks to harmony within social relationships, and specifically to interacting
and communicating in skilful ways. An exemplar is the Farsi ta'ârof. Although sometimes
translated simply as politeness, this is a culturally important and nuanced form of ritual
courtesy, particularly in relation to receiving and offering hospitality and gifts; Raifee (2013,
p.154) likens it to a verbal wrestling match of politeness, involving repeated instance by the
host that the guest have more food/drink, and equally insistent refusal by the guest to take it,
until eventually the guest relents. This is thus used both by the host to make the guest feel
welcome, and equally by the guest to “minimise imposition upon, or inconvenience to” the
host. A similarly mutually-beneficial interaction is denoted by the Arabic taarradhin. This
describes a positive agreement/solution to a disagreement, one that does not involve
begrudging compromise, but rather a win-win for both parties.
Words relating to courtesy and diplomacy are joined by those reflecting the art of
communication, like the Catalan verb enraonar, which means to engage in discussions in a
civilised, reasoned manner. As Trillas and Navarro (2015) explain, although both enraonar
and parlar are often simply translated as to speak, the former implies communicating with
others in “the best possible manner.” They further suggest it means “not speaking incorrectly,
doing so with a certain order, precision, calm and with the help of minimal but sufficient
reasons to explain oneself, and at the same time, attempting to understand and be
understood as clearly as possible. The role of communication in social harmony is
emphasised in a different way by the Fijian Hindi verb talanoa, which translates as to tell
stories, but which has been analysed as a gossip genre in which so-called idle chatter
serves an important function as a social adhesive (Brenneis, 1984, p.487). Capturing a
different mode of discourse, the Arabic verb samar signifies the culturally significant and
popular activity of sitting together in conversation at sunset (or generally in the evening).
In addition to these forms of positive discourse, there are a wealth of interjections and
salutations that serve an adaptive social function. Hebrew for instance is graced by many
examples, including: shalom, a polysemous noun connoting peace, harmony, wholeness,
prosperity, welfare and tranquillity, and which is used as a greeting/parting salutation (as is
its Arabic equivalent salām); mazal tov, which means good fortune, and serves as a
blessing of health and happiness; and tithadesh, which translates as get new, and is offered
to someone who has acquired a new possession or fortuitous change in circumstances. On a
different note, there are interjections expressing gratitude, for instance in relation to another
person’s effort, such as xīn kǔ in Chinese, and the Japanese term otsukaresama, which is
derived from the verb tsukarea, meaning to be or get tired (Spiridon, 2014). Then there are
interjections conveying compassion, such as the Swahili term pole, which articulates a sense
of I'm sorry for your misfortune, and the Armenian expression tsave danem (literally let
me take away your pain), which is used to position the speaker as caring about the other.
Finally, there are terms that transcend communication, being representative of a
broader way of being. For instance, the Hawaiian term aloha which can be interpreted as
“the breath of presence” is not only used as an expressive, caring salutation for both hello
and goodbye, but is depicted as epitomising the spirit of the island culture itself (Kaomea,
2000). Or take dadirri, used in numerous Australian Aboriginal languages, which describes a
spiritual act of reflective and respectful listening. As Ungunmerr-Baumann (2002, p.1), of the
Ngangikurungkurr Tribe, explains, it is is inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness.
This is depicted as a powerful contemplative practice; as she continues, When I experience
dadirri, I am made whole again. I can sit on the riverbank or walk through the trees; even if
someone close to me has passed away, I can find my peace in this silent awareness. Thought
of in this way, it is about more than simply listening well; in a deeper sense, West et al.
(2012) describe it as an entire a contemplative way of life, being receptive and attuned to the
world around with an attitude of respect and even reverence.
These latter meanings associated with dadirri indicate that skilful interaction does not
only have to be between people. Many cultures have developed words to reflect the notion
that human beings can moreover should be in communion with the broader natural world.
For instance, Norwegian has the noun friluftsliv, which translates as free air life or outdoor
life, articulating a philosophy of open-air living, and moreover of living in tune with nature,
that is valorised in Norwegian culture (Gurholt, 2008). Or consider hózhó, which is portrayed
as constituting the “essence” of the Diné (Navajo) people, reflecting their ideal of living in
balance, peace, and harmony with the world around. This again is a whole way of being: as
Kahn-John and Koithan (2015, p.24) explain, it constitutes a complex wellness philosophy
and belief system of the Diné, comprised of principles that guide one's thoughts, actions,
behaviors, and speech. Conversely, representing an absence of harmonious connection, the
Hopi term koyaanisqatsi has been rendered as nature out of balance or time out of joint,
denoting a dysfunctional way of life/living that calls for urgent change or renewal (Clements,
2004). These ideas around harmony and cohesion are reflected in the final theme, which
articulates a broader sense of communality.
This final theme transcends the specifics of particular relationships and interactions, and
speaks to the togetherness of the group as a whole. This category is perhaps exemplified by
the Spanish ideal/norm of simpatía, which Triandis et al. (1984, p.1363) describe as a
Hispanic “cultural script” that encourages people to strive for harmony in interpersonal
relations. This idealised notion of social accord and synchrony is likewise reflected in the
Javanese term tjotjog. According to Geertz (1976, p.31), it means to fit, as a key does in a
lock, and is a metaphysical concept at the heart of Javanese culture, one which can be
used in relation to just about all aspects of life, applying to contexts as diverse as a group
being in agreement, a meeting of minds, a husband and wife being well-matched, clothes
fitting well, food being agreeable, and the occurrence of a desired outcome. As such, the
concept epitomises though is not limited to the notion of a close, connected, and coherent
social group.
These ideas of communality are reflected in numerous words which tease apart its
nuances. Some denote a sense of community spirit, like the Arabic term asabiyyah, which
has been variously translated as solidarity, group feeling, and group consciousness; although
sometimes equated with tribal loyalty, it is also often used to depict more intangible but no
less powerful kinship bonds, such as people united by religious beliefs (Cleveland, 2015).
Solidarity is likewise captured in the Swahili term tuko pamoja, which translates as we are
together or we are one (Carotenuto & Luongo, 2016, p.157). Then, signifying a national
spirit of inclusiveness is the Danish adjective folkelig, which can be rendered as folkish,
and its related noun folkelighed, which translates as what belongs to the people, and has
been defined as enlightened democratic inclusivity” (Levisen, 2013, p.30). On an even
grander scale is the Russian noun mir, which translates both as “peace” and “world” or
“community,” thus articulating a broader sense of global togetherness (Shevtsova, 2015).
Words for community spirit overlap with terms articulating shared ideals and values.
These are exemplified by the Greek polis, one of the earliest and most influential examples of
such words, which roughly translates as city-state. This is the foundation for a range of
similarly influential derivations, including politicos, of, for, or relating to citizens (the basis
of the English loanword politics), and politeia, which denotes the order of social and political
relationships in a polis. Greek is particularly rich in such terms, which is to be expected given
the pioneering role the culture played in forging ideas around how people could and should
live together. While it’s beyond the scope here to adumbrate all its contributions in this
respect, a few more can be mentioned to illustrate its scope and influence. For instance, doxa
connotes common belief and popular opinion, as well as a sense of shared behaviours and
practices, and is the basis for terms like orthodox. Somewhat similarly, democracy also a
loanword of course combines dêmos (people or neighbourhood) with krátos (force/power).
Notions of shared ideals/values abound in other languages, with various nuances
embedded within them. Some terms incorporate a religious/spiritual dimension, like the
Sanskrit saṃgha, which means assembly, but is used (e.g., in Buddhism) to describe a
religious/spiritual community based around shared values and practices; although sometimes
used to refer specifically to a monastic order, it can also describe the broader community of
Buddhists. Other terms are more secular, for instance describing people working together for
the common good. There are numerous such words from Scandinavian languages in
particular, which is apposite given these countries’ reputations for egalitarianism and
communitarianism (Hyyppä & Mäki, 2003). For instance, a task collectively undertaken is
called a talko (Swedish), talkoot (Finnish), or dugnad (Norwegian); as Huvila (2012, p.58)
elucidates, these are often used for a short, intensive, collective effort with a tangible goal,
such as when people pitch in to help a person renovate their home. Finally, there is the
neologism Janteloven, coined by Danish author Aksel Sandemose (1936) to describe the laws
of Jante a fictional community in his novel that proscribe individualism and encourage
collectivism. In one sense, these laws could be regarded as exemplifying the kind of
community spirit that Scandinavian societies are often celebrated for; at the same time
though, the term can be used pejoratively to denote a pressure towards conformity that can
stifle individual development and expression (Levisen, 2013). Thus, the term perhaps points
to the limits of the value of prosociality, in that even while social integration is important,
there are points beyond which cultures can deem it coercive and even repressive.
The analysis explored five broad themes pertaining to prosociality: socialising/congregating,
morals/ethics, compassion/kindness, interaction/communication, and communality. These
themes, subthemes, and key words are illustrated in figure 1 above. The main significance of
this analysis is that these dimensions of existence are arguably somewhat overlooked in
societies that are relatively more individualistic, particularly the Anglophone Western
countries (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Relatedly, from a critical perspective, this
individualism has influenced academia itself, e.g., leading to models of wellbeing that
downplay the importance of social bonds, and neglect the notion that wellbeing is to an extent
a social phenomenon. For instance, there has been considerable prominence given in positive
psychology to Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, and Schkade’s (2005) model of subjective wellbeing
which holds that approximately only 10% of its variance is shaped by social circumstances.
This has led the field to prioritise interventions that target individual psychological
functioning, rather than endeavouring to effect more large-scale social change that may
improve wellbeing (Becker & Marecek, 2008). Unfortunately, it is an ecological fallacy to
suggest that this 10% figure (even if it is correct) applies to all people: for some, particularly
people in more disadvantageous social positions, the percentage of the variance is likely to be
far higher (Lund et al., 2010).
Thus, the advantage of studying non-English speaking cultures is that, compared to
some Western societies (e.g., the USA or the UK), these may have a greater appreciation of
the importance of social bonds. The word “some” in the previous sentence is important, since
among the cultures that are considered appreciative of commonality are the Nordic nations, a
factor that is usually cited when explaining their relatively high levels of wellbeing
(Helliwell, Layard, & Sachs, 2016). As such, the words here offer a useful corrective to
tendencies in psychology to overlook the social dimensions of wellbeing. The five themes
elucidated above are testament to the rich variety of ways in which people can connect and
cohere. These range from the solidarity found in congregating, to the value of being able to
interact skilfully. Hopefully the ongoing study of these terms can help further our
understanding of the value of prosociality, e.g., in terms of its impact of wellbeing, whose
importance has already been recognised by the emergence of paradigms like positive social
psychology (Lomas, 2015).
Moreover, further study is particularly necessary given the limitations of the analysis
here. First, the treatment of the included words has been inevitably restricted, limited by
attempting to convey an overarching comparative analysis (i.e., rather than focusing on a
small number of terms) within the constraints of a short article. Moreover, given that
translation is such a problematic and contested exercise, it will not have been possible to
arrive at a canonical description of the words that would satisfy all speakers of the donor
language. As with any form of translation, one aims to catch the spirit of the original word
(McClaren, 1998, p.128). However, given the fluidity and complexity of language use, there
will always be many possible ways of defining and interpreting a given word. Thus, the
descriptions of the words here are merely one possible way of elucidating these terms, and
ultimately are based on the author’s reading and interpretation of the source material. That
said, dictionaries and scholarly sources were consulted in the aim of arriving at viable and
valid descriptions of all the words, and moreover in most cases the descriptions/definitions
were checked with a native speaker of the donor language. In addition to issues around
translation and hermeneutics, the analysis, and the lexicography itself, are by no means
exhaustive. For instance, the lexicography only currently features around 100 languages, out
of potentially more than 7,000 currently in existence. There are likely to be many relevant
terms that are included neither in the analysis above, nor the lexicography as it currently
stands (which is a work-in-progress). Moreover, some cultures and traditions have been
considered in more depth than others (e.g., Buddhism), reflecting the interests of the author,
which drove the process of conceptual snowballing in particular directions. Nonetheless, it is
hoped that the analysis may still offer a useful cross-cultural appraisal of prosociality, limited
and partial as it may be. Future research may hopefully build on this, developing an even
more comprehensive and nuanced cross-cultural understanding of this important topic.
Note: The author states that there is no conflict of interest.
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... As noted above, in the initial GT analysis of 216 words that established the foundation for the lexicography (Lomas, 2016b), I identified six main categories. With the gradual addition of over 1,400 new words to date, it has been possible to conduct and publish analyses of each category separately, revealing their internal structure: positive feelings (Lomas, 2017a), ambivalent feelings (Lomas, 2017b), love (Lomas, 2018c), prosociality (Lomas, 2018b), character (Lomas, 2019c), and spirituality (Lomas, 2019a). In addition, the new words have also led to the identification of six further categoriesstill within the three meta-category structureas illustrated below in Figure 1. ...
... In addition to close bonds to select others (and phenomena), the initial analysis pointed to the value of prosociality, i.e., good relations with people 'in general' (Lomas, 2018b). Here five main themes were identified, as outlined below in Figure 7. ...
... The first metacategory is qualia, which includes positive feelings (Lomas, 2017a), ambivalent feelings (Lomas, 2017b), and nowin the updated iteration of the analysis, with over 1,400 new words added to the lexicography since my initial analysis (Lomas, 2016b)also cognition (Lomas, forthcoming d) and embodiment (Lomas, forthcoming e). The second is relationships, featuring love (Lomas, 2018c), prosociality (Lomas, 2018b), and now also ecoconnection (Lomas, 2019b) and aesthetics (Lomas, forthcoming a). And the third is personal development, comprising character (Lomas, 2019c), spirituality (Lomas, 2019a), and now also competence (Lomas, forthcoming b) and understanding (Lomas, forthcoming c). ...
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Positive psychology has been critiqued as Western-centric, influenced by the mostly Western contexts in which it has developed. English is its dominant mode of discourse, for example, which has shaped its understanding of its subject matter. To generate a more comprehensive cross-cultural 'map' of wellbeing, the author is creating a lexicography of relevant 'untranslatable' words (without exact translation in English). An initial analysis of 216 words, published in the Journal of Positive Psychology in 2016, identified six main categories: positive feelings, ambivalent feelings, love, prosociality, character, and spirituality. Subsequently, over 1,400 more words have been added to the lexicography to date. As a result, analyses have been published of each category separately, revealing their internal structure. In addition, six further categories have been identified: cognition, embodiment, aesthetics, eco-connection, competence, and understanding. This paper summarises these analyses, and outlines their significance in terms of augmenting the conceptual map in positive psychology.
... From the perspective of organizational behavior, the spread of anxiety in the population is due to people 's herd behavior [ 30 ] People treat the information observed in the population ( including the language and behavior of others ) as ' information ' [ 31 ], which contains the anxiety of its source, and ultimately affects the recipient in the process of information processing, while transforming the person receiving the anxiety information into another communicator. In order to solve the problem of anxiety spread in the population, Zhang Qi, a member of the study group, designed and carried out an experiment. ...
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It is very common that people are affected by different levels of anxiety in different environments. However, there is no effective research or corresponding measures for this phenomenon. This study through the questionnaire survey combined with interviews and experiments, through the investigation and experiment to find out the reasons for the spread of anxiety in the group, and through further experiments found that people can produce positive emotions and eliminate anxiety when watching portraits with positive emotions, and finally find out the method to solve the problem of anxiety in private and public occasions.
... Indeed, with the new words, the thematic structure in the original paper has been updated. The six categories initially identified are still present, and moreover have been enriched by the additional words, with analyses published on each: positive feelings (Lomas, 2017a), ambivalent feelings (Lomas, 2017b), love (Lomas, 2018b), prosociality (Lomas, 2021a), character (Lomas, 2019c), and spirituality (Lomas, 2019a), plus a theoretical paper on the project itself (Lomas, 2018a). However, six new categories have also been identified, as summarized in a more recent overview (Lomas, 2021b). ...
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Vitality has been underappreciated and underexplored by academia at large. This oversight is potentially explained by the Western-centric nature of most fields, with vitality having been comparatively neglected in the West relative to elsewhere. One explanation for this lacuna is that vitality is not easily pigeonholed within the ontological categories dominant in the West, such as mind and body. This paper therefore aims to learn from cultures that have cultivated a greater understanding of vitality, doing so by engaging with relevant 'untranslatable' words (i.e., those without exact equivalent in English), thus enriching our conceptual map of this topic. Over 200 relevant terms were located and analyzed using an adapted form of grounded theory. Three themes were identified, each with four subthemes: spirit (life force, channels, soul, and transcendence); energy (fortitude, channeling, willpower, and recharging); and heart (desire, passion, affection, and satisfaction). The paper thus refines our understanding of this important topic and provides a foundation for future research.
... The six categories initially identified are still present, and moreover have been enriched by the additional words, with analyses published on each: positive feelings (Lomas, 2017a), ambivalent feelings (Lomas, 2017b), love (Lomas, 2018b), prosociality (Lomas, 2021b), character (Lomas, 2019b), and spirituality (Lomas, 2019a), plus a theoretical paper on the project itself (Lomas, 2018a). However, six new categories have also been identified. ...
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Art and aesthetics have long been understood as central to human well-being and flourishing. However, the academic study of these phenomena has been critiqued for its Western-centricity and general lack of cross-cultural engagement. As such, this article aims to broaden our appreciation of the contours of aesthetics by engaging with relevant “untranslatable” words (i.e., without an exact equivalent in English), thereby enriching our conceptual map of this arena. Over 300 relevant terms from 24 languages were located and analyzed using grounded theory. Four main metathemes were identified, each with several themes: stimuli (spanning the sensory modalities of sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, and the mind), qualities (harmony, naturalness, simplicity, prettiness, and shock), dynamics (appreciation, understanding, and inspiration), and modes (modalities, movements, and techniques). The article therefore adds to our understanding of this vital arena of human well-being and flourishing, though, as ever, further work is needed.
... Such words indicate phenomena and insights which have not yet been lexicalised in English, and hence tend to be overlooked by psychology, to its detriment. By analysing these words thematically it has been possible to augment the field's current conceptual 'map' of various topics, including positive emotions (Lomas, 2017b), ambivalent emotions (Lomas, 2017c), prosociality (Lomas, 2018b), love (Lomas, 2018c), spirituality (Lomas, 2019a), eco-connection (Lomas, 2019b), and character (Lomas, 2019c). ...
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The development of academic fields is often described through the metaphor of ‘waves.’ Following the instantiation of positive psychology (the first wave), scholarship emerged looking critically at the notions of positive and negative, becoming known as its second wave. More recently, we discern an equally significant shift, namely scholarship that in various ways goes beyond the individual and embraces greater complexity. This includes going beyond the individual person as the primary focus of enquiry to look more deeply at the groups and systems in which people are embedded. It also involves becoming more interdisciplinary and multicultural, and embracing a wider range of methodologies. We submit that these interrelated ripples constitute a form of epistemological ‘broadening’ that merit the label of an incoming ‘third wave.’ This paper identifies the key dynamics of this wave, allowing appreciation not only of the field’s leading edge, but also its developmental potential into the future.
... Indeed, with the addition of the new words, the thematic structure outlined in the original paper has been updated. The six categories initially identified are still present, and moreover have been enriched by the additional words, with thematic analyses published on each (positive feelings [35], ambivalent feelings [36], love [37], prosociality [38], character [39], and spirituality [40]), plus a theoretical paper [28] and monograph [41] on the lexicographic project itself. However, the additional words have also led to six new categories being identified. ...
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The environment is widely recognised to be in peril, with clear signs of a climate crisis. This situation has many dimensions and factors, but key among them are the often-destructive ways in which humans interact with the natural world. Numerous cultures-particularly more industrialised and/or Western ones-have developed predatory and disconnected modes of interaction. In such modes, nature tends to be constructed as a resource to be exploited (rather than, say, a commonwealth to be protected). However, many people-especially, but not only, in less 'developed' nations-have cultivated less destructive modes of relationship. These bonds may be broadly encompassed under the rubric of 'eco-connection'. In the interests of exploring these latter modes, an enquiry was conducted into adaptive forms of engagement with nature across the world's cultures. The enquiry focused on untranslatable words, i.e., which lack an exact translation in another language (in this case, English). Through a quasi-systematic search of academic and grey literature, together with additional data collection, over 150 relevant terms were located. An adapted form of grounded theory identified three main dimensions of eco-connection: sacrality, bonding, and appreciation. Such analyses have the potential to promote greater wellbeing literacy with respect to our relationship with nature, both within academia and beyond in the wider culture. This includes enriching the nomological network in psychology, and more broadly building a nature-related vocabulary that is more sustainable and harmonious. In doing so, there may also be benefits to public health, in that developing such literacy could possibly influence people's engagement with nature itself, leading to more adaptive forms of relationship.
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The past 150 years have seen remarkable advances in the study of wellbeing. To appreciate the value and significance of these developments, this paper offers a historical perspective on their dynamics, arguing that we have seen four great waves of wellbeing scholarship in the modern West. I begin by exploring the wave metaphor itself, and then propose that these waves have been unfurling in a Western cultural ‘ocean.’ As such, I then explore key historical currents that have shaped this ocean, including Greek philosophy, Christianity, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment. From there, the narrative considers the emergence of the first wave (psychiatry and psychotherapy), second wave (humanistic psychology), and third wave (positive psychology). The paper concludes by suggesting we are seeing an emerging fourth wave of ‘global wellbeing scholarship,’ in which these Western waters are beginning to intermingle with other regional oceans (which have likewise progressed through their own developmental currents and waves), creating a more globally inclusive picture of wellbeing.
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Character strengths have become a popular topic in personality research. A set of questionnaires has recently been developed as measures of character strengths: the VIA Inventory of Strengths-Revised, two 96-item short forms of that instrument, and two new measures called the Global Assessment of Character Strengths and Signature Strengths Survey. Collectively, these are referred to as the VIA Assessment Suite for Adults. Prior research has supported the reliability and validity of these measures. The current study extended those findings through a demographically stratified sample of 1,765 U.S. resident adults. Results indicated the scores were interchangeable across all three versions of the VIA-IS, irrespective of whether the items are all positively keyed or a mix of positive and negative items. In addition, the VIA-IS-R factor structure is also consistent with a previously identified three-factor model for the strengths. By freeing residual covariances, a model was developed for which adequate fit was replicable. This provided the foundation for demonstrating measurement invariance. The present study also explored differences in strengths across demographic categories and evaluated various approaches to identifying key (signature) strengths for the respondents. Recommendations on the use of the different instruments are provided.
Conference Paper
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Although London’s multicultural nature is often celebrated, this ideal has come under challenge, especially post-Brexit. Consequently, there is need for a greater appreciation of the nature and value of cultural diversity in London. An innovative means to achieving this is through studying untranslatable words, which reveal phenomena that have been overlooked in English but identified by other languages. Over the past three years, the author has been constructing a lexicography of untranslatable words relating to wellbeing ( Building on this on-going project, this presentation showcases the results of a new BA/Leverhulme funded study conducted across 2018-2019. The study involves the elicitation of videoblogs from speakers of the approximately 300 languages in London about untranslatable words in their language(s) relating to wellbeing, plus in-depth interviews with select speakers, with blogs and interviews analysed thematically, thereby providing a conceptual ‘map’ of the data. The research will enhance our understanding of linguistic and cultural diversity in London, as seen through the prism of wellbeing.
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Mainstream psychology can be considered relatively Western-centric, as reflected in the fact that its discourse and theorising is mainly in English, influencing how it conceptualises its subject matter. However, English itself is a complex product of multiple cultural influences, including the widespread borrowing of words from other languages. To shed light on this issue, this paper conducted an etymological analysis of a sample of words in psychology-focusing as a case study on a seminal article in positive psychology. The analysis identified 1333 lexemes, of which more than 60% can be regarded as loanwords (i.e., borrowed from other languages). The analysis shows the great cultural influences that have combined to form English, and hence psychology, yet also the extent to which this influence has been limited to certain cultures. The paper thus illustrates how psychology has benefitted from insights forged in other languages, but moreover how it might continue to do so through more systematic and comprehensive forms of cross-cultural engagement.
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Although the notion of virtue is increasingly prominent in psychology, the way it has been studied and conceptualised has been relatively Western-centric, and does not fully account for variations in how it has been understood cross-culturally. As such, an enquiry was conducted into ideas relating to virtue found across the world’s cultures, focusing specifically on so-called untranslatable words. Through a quasi-systematic search of academic and grey literature, together with conceptual snowballing and crowd-sourced suggestions, over 200 relevant terms were located. An adapted grounded theory analysis identified five themes which together provide an insight into the “roots” of virtue (i.e., the main sources from which it appears to spring): virtue itself (the concept of it); considerateness (caring about it); wisdom (knowing what it consists of); agency (managing to be/do it); and skill (mastery of the preceding elements). The results help shed further light on the potential dynamics of this important phenomenon.
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Mainstream psychology can be regarded as largely Western-centric, with its concepts and priorities biased towards Western ways of thinking and understanding. Consequently, the field would benefit from greater cross-cultural awareness and engagement. To that end, this article offers one means of engagement, the study of “untranslatable” words (i.e., terms without an exact equivalent in another language, in our case English). A key function of language is that it offers a “map” that allows us to understand and navigate the world. In that respect, such words point to cultural variation in the maps we use, and even to variation in the actual territory mapped. The paper concludes with suggestions for why and how psychology could benefit from engaging with such words.
This book traces the history of loanwords in English from earliest times to the present day. The first two chapters outline the research methodology and framework, and introduce several key datasets that are referred to throughout the book: the full wordlist of the Oxford English Dictionary; the 1,000 most frequent words in a corpus of contemporary English; and the English words that provide the closest fit with a large list of basic meanings. The next three chapters look at the historical and cultural background up to the Norman Conquest, the methodology of comparative linguistics and the identification of families of related languages, the ways in which loanwords from the remote past are identified, and, finally, why there are relatively few English loanwords from the Celtic languages of the British Isles. The following three groups of chapters form the heart of the historical discussion in the book, looking in detail at loanwords from Latin found in Old English; loanwords resulting from Scandinavian contact and settlement; and loanwords that reflect multilingual contacts between French, Latin, and English in later medieval England. The final part of the book looks in detail at loanwords from Latin and French from 1500 to the present, including the role of loanwords in the history of written English and in the formation of specialist technical and scientific vocabularies; the contribution from other major donor languages, both within Europe and beyond (including Arabic, Hebrew, languages of South Asia, Malay, Chinese, Maori, and Japanese); and, finally, it assesses the deep transformations in all layers of the vocabulary of English that have resulted from the integration of loanwords from different sources.
This book is the first work to address the question of what kinds of words get borrowed in a systematic and comparative perspective. It studies lexical borrowing behavior on the basis of a world-wide sample of 40 languages, both major languages and minor languages, and both languages with heavy borrowing and languages with little lexical influence from other languages. The book is the result of a five-year project bringing together a unique group of specialists of many different languages and areas. The introductory chapters provide a general up-to-date introduction to language contact at the word level, as well as a presentation of the project's methodology. All the chapters are based on samples of 1000-2000 words, elicited by a uniform meaning list of 1460 meanings. The combined database, comprising over 70,000 words, is published online at the same time as the book is published. For each word, information about loanword status is given in the database, and the 40 case studies in the book describe the social and historical contact situations in detail.The final chapter draws general conclusions about what kinds of words tend to get borrowed, what kinds of word meanings are particularly resistant to borrowing, and what kinds of social contact situations lead to what kinds of borrowing situations. © 2009 by Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, 10785 Berlin, Germany. All rights reserved.