HINDU TRADITIONS AND THE ACADEMIC OPTICS OF THE WEST - The Daily Guardian
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HINDU TRADITIONS AND THE ACADEMIC OPTICS OF THE WEST

How should members of the academic community react when members of the faith community, and not just members of the student community or colleagues in the academic community, cross the response threshold? The answer to this question is now in the process of being formulated.

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The relations between the academic community and the Hindu community have recently come to be characterised by a sharp debate, which has also spilled over into journalism and the Internet. This development has been prompted by the reservations expressed by a significant number of Hindus in North America and India over the way Hinduism is portrayed in the Western academia and by the vigorous response of the academic community to such criticism.

As an academic, who is also a Hindu—or conversely, as a Hindu, who is also an academic—I (along with some of my other Hindu colleagues) stand at the volatile point of intersection between these two communities. This makes my role in the debate particularly fraught. I shall, nevertheless, try to address the issue or issues involved.

It seems to me that the issue first needs to be viewed on the broadest canvas possible, namely, that of the history of ideas.

Such a historical perspective is best developed by utilising the distinction regularly drawn in the study of religion between the insider and the outsider, notwithstanding some problems of definition involved in invoking this distinction. From the point of view of this distinction, the study of religion seems to exhibit a four-fold typology in terms of the modalities of transmission involved, in the context of how the study of the various religious traditions has proceeded over the past few centuries: (1) insider to insider; (2) outsider to outsider; (3) outsider to insider; and (4) insider to outsider. The various religions flourished in relative isolation in the pre-modern era. Historians do warn us that perceptions of such isolation may be somewhat exaggerated, but no one has seriously challenged the view that the main channel of communication involving the various religious traditions during this phase was from insider to insider.

This state of affairs began to change with the rise of the West and the onset of the modern era. During this phase, as the West became familiar with the religions of the Americas, Africa, and Asia, one main mode of transmission about these religions became one from outsider to outsider even as the other continued.

Western scholars, outsiders to these various religious traditions, began sharing their knowledge about them with other Westerners, who were as much outsiders to the religious traditions they were receiving information about as those providing it. The West, however, began to control the intellectual discourse in its colonies as the Western domination of the world became institutionalised in the form of colonialism, and the insiders to these traditions began to be profoundly affected, even in their self-understanding of their own religious traditions, by Western accounts.

Thus another dimension was added to the manner in which religious communication was taking place—from outsider to insider. This age of European imperialism had run its course by the end of World War II and the direction of the discourse took yet another turn with the liberation of the former colonies.

The members of the various non-Western religious traditions began to challenge their colonial descriptions in the post-colonial world. Now the insiders themselves began to claim the right to tell the outsiders about their faith, thus reversing the flow of information from outsider to insider, to insider to outsider.

The present tensions arguably reflect the state of discourse about Hinduism at this cusp of insider to outsider.

If the perspective presented above possesses some merit, then we now stand at a turning-point in the relationship among the interlocutors in the study of religion. Historical changes, however, are not linear even when their direction is discernible. Historical changes are more like the changes in ocean flows caused by tides. It is sometimes not apparent that the tide has begun to turn, even when it has. And even as the tide advances there are backflows, which tend to confuse the onlooker. Such a tidal shift also generates eddies and undercurrents. The going is not always as smooth as at high tide, when the scene takes on a serene aspect and the ocean seems to bare its bosom to the moon, as Wordsworth might say.

This metaphor, if not off the mark, may serve to both illustrate and explain the messiness of the present situation. However, although it might make it more understandable, it does not make it easier to deal with, for many issues demand our attention at the same time.

One is thus forced to be selective, one hopes without being arbitrary. I would like to identify nine such issues that stare us in the face. I hope these issues will resonate with the readers independently of whether they belong to the academic community or the Hindu community. I shall employ a rubric to encapsulate the key point of each of the issues I wish to foreground, in the hope that the expressions being employed to describe them will become increasingly clear as we proceed. These nine encapsulating expressions are the following:

• The Response Threshold

• Cognitive versus non-cognitive approaches

• Bias and error

• The Genetic Fallacy

• The Observer Effect

• The Distinction between an Academic and a Polemical Work

• The Idea of Purvapaka

• Objectivity as an Academic Desideratum

• Actor and Spectator

THE RESPONSE THRESHOLD

We owe this expression to Professor Eric J. Sharpe. He writes: A “response threshold” is crossed when it becomes possible for the believer to advance his or her own interpretation against that of the scholar. In classical comparative religion this was hardly a problem, since most of the scholar’s time was spent investigating the religions of the past and often of the very remote past. Interpretations might be challenged, but only by other specialists working according to Western canons and conventions. Today, by contrast, a greater proportion of study is devoted to contemporary, or at least recent, forms of living traditions. The study of religion often shades into a dialogue of religions, in which the views of both partners are (at least in theory) equally important. The response threshold implies the right of the present-day devotee to advance a distinctive interpretation of his or her own tradition—often at variance with that of Western scholarship—and to be taken entirely seriously in so doing.

What one is thus experiencing now in the academic world is the crossing of the response threshold by the Hindu community in North America and India. This community in North America has reached the critical demographic mass, when its reactions can no longer be disregarded; it is also displaying a new assertiveness in India. As teachers of religion we have perhaps already had our own experience of the response threshold being crossed by our students, when we have fielded questions from those who belong to the very faith about which we are teaching them.

This raises the question: How should members of the academic community react when members of the faith community, and not just members of the student community or colleagues in the academic community, cross the response threshold? The answer to this question is now in the process of being formulated.

COGNITIVE VERSUS NON-COGNITIVE APPROACHES

It is clear from the documentation around this debate that the protest is not always about the facts that may be adjudicated on the basis of evidence but often about interpretations, which do not seem susceptible to such verification. The main achievements of modern science proceeded from the falsifiability of its hypotheses but such does not seem fully applicable to the case here. We thus need to distinguish clearly between cognitive and non-cognitive approaches to the study of religion: “When we assert that what we take to be a fact (or deny what is alleged to be a fact), we are using language cognitively. ‘The population of China is one billion,’ ‘This is a hot summer,’ ‘Two plus two makes four,’ ‘He is not here’ are cognitive utterances. Indeed, we can define a cognitive (or informative or indicative) sentence as one that is either true or false.” Thus the statement that ‘Sanskrit is the language in which many sacred texts of Hinduism were composed’ represents an example of the cognitive use of language. “There are, however, other types of utterances which are neither true nor false because they fulfill a different function from that of endeavouring to describe facts.” When it is proposed that ‘Sanskrit is the language which contributes to social and political oppression,’ then this statement cannot be said to be true or false in the sense that the statement about it ‘being the language in which many sacred texts of Hinduism were composed’ could be considered to be so.

When we ask whether a claim is cognitive or non-cognitive, the “query at once divides into two: (1) Are such sentences intended by their users to be construed cognitively? (2) Is their logical character such that they can, in fact, regardless of intention, be either true or false?” Once the Western presentation of the tradition, which happens to be non-cognitive in nature, is attacked by the followers of the tradition, the non-cognitive approach may be far more open to frisson than if the cognitive approach were being employed. One could perhaps appeal to the verdict of the “academic community” on the point, just as one might determine the stance of a “faith community.” However, the fact that the approach is non-cognitive, which is to say non-falsifiable in the usual sense, either historically or phenomenologically, does seem to suggest that a new set of criteria might be required to asses it. This makes the study of religion less of a science to that extent, and more of an art. It also complicates claims to academic freedom, for how is one to adjudicate the charge of the community that, in a particular instance, an exercise in academic freedom has degenerated into an exercise in academic licence, and that the exercise in academic license, in turn, has further degenerated into an exercise in academic licentiousness?

The current controversy thus enables us to identify a new challenge: How to adjudicate differences of opinion, sometimes sharp, between the academic and faith communities, with criteria ideally acceptable to both, when the non-cognitive use of language is involved?

BIAS AND ERROR

It has been alleged during this debate that some, or even many, academics are either biased or in gross error when dealing with some aspects of Hinduism. However, fallibility is a human condition – no one is either infallible or capable of achieving Archimedean objectivity. Both common sense and humanity demand that some procedures be devised in our field for distinguishing between random human error and error caused by bias (conscious or unconscious).

The task might appear insurmountable on the face of it, but there is good news. Statistics as a science is concerned with, and indeed has, evolved ways of distinguishing between random error and systematic error (or bias) through the process known as hypothesis-testing. It is a pity that for all the popularity statistics enjoy, no one has been willing to give this scientific turn to the discussion of Orientalism. What one needs is a data bank of examples of (alleged) biases and errors pertaining to a work, an individual scholar, or to the field in general. This will make it at least theoretically possible to identify both Orientalist as well as chauvinistic excesses in the current discourse perpetrated by “outsiders” and “insiders” respectively.

The current situation thus enables us to identify a third new challenge: The need for creating a data base for which the following acronym is proposed—ASBESTOS (Archives for the Study of Bias and Error in the Study and Teaching of Religions). As applied to Hinduism, it should document instances of bias and error identified by concerned parties, both in the Western presentation of Hinduism as well as in the presentation of Hinduism by the Hindus. This will level the playing field and provide the basis for achieving greater academic objectivity, an aim worth pursuing even if we think it is an aim which can only be approached asymptotically.

(Part 1 of the 3-part series.)

The writer is the Birks Professor of Comparative Religion at the McGill University in Montréal, Canada. He is also associated with the Nalanda University in India. The views expressed are personal.

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My journey started with a door slammed on my face: Chinu Kala

In this interview, we host the woman whose journey is a ‘rags to riches’ story come true. From a daily income of Rs. 40 on a good day to owning a company with an annual turnover of Rs. 40 crore, Chinu Kala has seen the best and worst of the world.

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Chinu Kala

Chinu Kala is the founder of the imitation jewellery brand, Rubans Accessories. She is an inspiration for women seeking to break the glass ceiling and achieve what they desire. We hosted Kala for an interview as part of our special series, NewsX India A-List. Below are the excerpts from the interview:

Opening the interview by explaining to the viewers about her brand’s unique name and the meaning behind it, Chinu said, “‘Rubans’ means ribbons in French, and for us, it’s a ribbon that binds the gift of life together.” We were curious to know about Kala’s journey, so she narrated to us, “My journey started long back. I was just 15 years old and I had a tiff with my parents–my father, and now I feel it was, maybe, a regular tiff that every teenager has with their parents but maybe I was too adamant and stubborn.” As a result of the fierce squabble with her father, a “strong-headed” Chinu left her family in her teenage years. Further narrating her story, Kala said, “I just had Rs. 300 in my pocket, I had two pairs of Salwar-Kameez, I took that and I left home.” Chinu spent several days & nights on the platforms of Mumbai Central where Vada Pav replaced the three square meals she used to eat at home.

Kala told us that a kind lady who came to her rescue helped her land a job as a door-to-door salesgirl for household products. Chinu then revealed to us about the experience from her first day at the job. “She just slammed the door on my face,” said the entrepreneur while talking about the lady to whom she was about to make her first sales pitch. “I think that thing made me strong, much tougher,” said Chinu. Finishing her response, Chinu said, “A door slammed on my face, that’s how I started.”

The hardest years of her life taught Chinu a very valuable lesson: “Hunger to survive is a very big motivator.” The entrepreneur told us, “We used to ring the doorbell of hundred houses, and at the end of the day, I used to sell one or two pieces. So I used to get, like, Rs. 20-40 at the end of the day after ringing the doorbell of hundred houses.” She then revealed that she also took up work as a waitress and a receptionist, among other odd jobs, during those years.

For our next question, we asked Kala about how the idea for Rubans came to be, to which she replied, “People had their favourite streets for street shopping of jewellery, people had stores in different cities where they would go and buy jewellery, so I started thinking that why is there no brand that is catering to this entire need of jewellery.” Kala saw this space in the market and started Rubans Accessories which addressed this problem for women.

Kala finished the interview with a special message for female entrepreneurs. She said, “Put your work on a very high pedestal.” Urging women entrepreneurs to not hesitate in making work the top priority among their other duties, Kala said, “Tell the people around you that it’s equally important.”

Watch the interview here:

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TRICOLOUR INSPIRED FASHION IDEAS TO TRY THIS REPUBLIC DAY

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Republic Day is right around the corner and for those who are wondering how to seize the spirit of the patriotic day, a gorgeous tricolour-inspired outfit would instantly match your vibe to that of the day.

While the laziest idea would be to grab anything that is white, green or orange, if you plan your outfit a little in advance, you can fashionably stand out from the rest.

1. ORANGE SKIRT

A bright, poppy orange skirt is an investment. Grab one whenever you find it, whether in a mall, a flea market or online. Not only an orange skirt will make you look perfectly dressed for the day, but the vibrant colour would add a note of freshness to your look. Pair it with a white top or a shirt and you are ready to rock, patriotically.

2. GREEN BOTTOMS

Pants, palazzos or shorts the options are many. Choose one which you have available or would prefer based on the weather in your area.

3. EYE MAKEUP AND NAIL ART

This one is for experimenting and stepping beyond the first thought of putting the colours in your outfit.

If you want to play with your makeup, then a tricolour-inspired eyeshadow should do the trick. This is perfect for those who wish to dress as per the theme but do not have any outfit working for them. Nail Art is another exciting, easy and creative idea to style with the tricolour theme.

4. JEWELLERY

Jewellery is another great hack for those not interested in choosing their clothes in tricolour. Pieces of jewellery such as earrings, necklaces and rings can add that sparkle and colour to your outfit.

Those who are interested in crafts can also DIY their jewellery using quilling paper and beads.

5. COMBINING ALL THREE

here are ideas of using all three colours together by creating a three-piece outfit, without risking a fashion disaster. You can mix and match in multiple ways

a. A full white outfit paired with a green jacket and an orange handbag.

b. A casual green tee, white lowers and orange shoes.

c. An orange-white cord-set, paired with a green denim jacket.

d. A green puffy jacket, orange scarf, white backpack and your favourite regular jeans.

e. A full green outfit with white shoes and an orange cap.

The final and most essential touch is lots of confidence to carry your look well.

With these gorgeous outfit ideas up your sleeve, you can easily gather compliments at an R-Day get-together and likes on your Instagram profile.

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Better than RO: Complete health protection with TYENT water ionizer

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It is common to hear that water is essential for our health and drinking water plays a vital role in maintaining health and boosting immunity. Water helps in maintaining the balance of body fluids. Our body is composed of about 60% water. The functions of these bodily fluids include digestion, absorption, circulation, transportation of nutrients, and maintenance of body temperature.

Nowadays Reverse osmosis (RO) are commonly used as a filtration method to remove many types of dissolved solids in water, but as a result all the minerals which are present in the water like calcium, magnesium, potassium, silica will be removed along with all the bacteria, viruses, and hard minerals.

During the initial days, we all had used a Ganga water filter with candles to purify the water. Nowadays people are using water ionizers the latest technology in water purification. Ionised water is obtained by means of an electric current being passed through water, in a process called electrolysis. As a result, the water molecule is split into positively charged hydrogen and negatively charged hydroxyl ions. The former are included in the composition of acids, and the latter in that of alkalis.

TYENT is a leading medical-grade water ionizer brand in the world and it is certified by all international quality certification authorities. Medilight healthcare collaborated with TAEYOUNG E&T Co. Ltd.,  a parent company of TYENT Water Ionizers and successfully launched world’s No.1 water ionizer brand TYENT in India. TYENT is a Korean company with Japanese technology.

The water obtained through RO is supposed to be dead water or neutral water as it removes all minerals good as well as bad. However dead water is acidic since its pH slides below seven without alkaline minerals like calcium and magnesium.

TYENT ionized alkaline water which has rich sources of essential alkaline minerals & selective Anti-Oxidant molecular hydrogen. It has many health benefits.

1. It helps in restoring the right pH balance in the human body.

2. It helps in reducing inflammation.

3. It helps in reducing joint pains.

4. It slows down the aging process.

5. It helps in boosting immunity.

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I HAD TEARS IN MY EYES: SAQIB SALEEM REVEALS MOHINDER AMARNATH’S REACTION TO HIS PERFORMANCE IN 83

In an exclusive conversation with NewsX as part of NewsX India A-List, Saqib Saleem revealed Mohinder Amarnath’s reaction to his performance in ‘83’ and much more.

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Garnering praises for his stellar performance in 83, Actor Saqib Saleem joined NewsX for a candid chat as part of NewsX India A-List. As part of the exclusive conversation, the actor opened up about the response to his latest film 83, Mohinder Amarnath’s reaction to his performance and much more.

Speaking about the release of 83 and the response coming his way, Saqib said, “I have been working for the last 10-12 years but it feels like it is my first film because the love I have gotten for this, I have never gotten in my life for anything. It is just so overwhelming that the kind of messages I have been getting whether it is from the fraternity, whether it is from people on social media, my friends, my relatives and I do not know how to react. As I said, I have never gotten a response like this, so I don’t know what to say or what to do. I did not know that I was so bad at taking compliments. It is the first time I have realised that I am bad at taking compliments.”

When asked about the best compliment that he has received so far for his performance in the film, Saqib revealed, “If I had to tell you the best compliment I have gotten is from the man himself- Mohinder Amarnath. It was at the premiere of the film and I was very nervous about how he would see it. I had already the seen the film so I knew the film was good but I really wanted his review because I was playing him. When the premiere was on, I was slyly next to his seat, trying to gauge his reaction as to what he is thinking but I was getting very anxious. I was like I cannot do this to myself. I have to let him enjoy the film. I have to just disconnect from the film right now. I went out of the theatre. I had a couple of more black coffees and I got more anxious. When the film got over, I came back in. I went to him and I do not know why but I had tears in my eyes. I looked at him and all I said was that ‘Sir, I am really sorry if I did something that was wrong’. He looked at me with his trademark smile and said, “Are you mad?”

“He had a red handkerchief that he would always carry himself in the 1983 world cup. He was wearing a red pocket square. He took out that pocket square and put on my jacket and said, “This is yours from now. You have made me 10 years younger.” I could not stop crying. I had never in my life, my acting career had a more honest moment. I felt so connected to my own self at that time. Now, no review matters, no box office matters, nothing matters. The man himself appreciated it and that is the biggest validation I could have asked for, “he added.

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COVID 19: A CATALYST FOR CHANGE AND EVOLUTION IN EDUCATION

Educational innovations have the potential to improve learning outcomes as well as the overall quality of teaching methods.

Nasir Shaikh

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A leapfrog moment, this advancement has apparently moved from the margins to the centre of several educational standards, providing a chance to assess innovative approaches that, if attained, can enable students to get an education that prepares them for our changing times.

Benefits and tips of hybrid learning in eLearning industry.

Digital literacy impacts today’s classrooms.

Today, we are in a different situation. The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed education advancement into the heart of nearly every learning system on the planet. According to a recent 59-country survey of educators, “the crisis has revealed the enormous potential for development that has lain dormant in many education systems.” The issue is no longer how to scale innovative ideas from the margins to the centre of education systems, but rather how to transform education systems so that they might source, support, and sustain innovations that resolve inequality and equip all students with the skills to build a better future for themselves rather than their communities. By doing so, we hope that not only will those who have fallen behind be able to catch up, but a new, more equitable education system will emerge from the crisis.

History teaches us that crisis reshape society

During the Covid -19 pandemic, two recent trends in the education industry have been the augmentation of ‘Hybrid Learning’ and the ‘Escalating Innovation in Educational Technologies’.

Digital technologies are having a significant impact on economies and societies, changing the way we work, communicate, engage in social activities, and have fun. They also spur innovation in a wide range of fields. The ground-breaking capacity of technology is heavily influenced by the population’s level of digital literacy. It’s no surprise that there’s a strong link between education and skills and the adoption and use of digital technologies in various aspects of life. The importance of education and skills in fostering innovation cannot be overstated.

By transmitting new tools, practices, organizations, and technology, innovation in education aims to provide the means to bridge the productivity gap. The pandemic has overhauled education-based scientific research to facilitate the development of a body of practical technical teaching know-how or to improve classroom practices.

Educational innovations have the potential to improve learning outcomes as well as the overall quality of teaching methods. Changes throughout the educational system, for instance, or in teaching methods, can enable customized learning processes. In most regions of the world, education is viewed as a means of increasing equity and equality. These pandemic-related innovations could help improve equity in access to and use of education, as well as equality in academic results.

A powered-up education system could hold a strong public school system at the heart of a community and leverage the most meaningful collaborations, including those formed during Covid-19, to help learners grow and develop a wide range of competencies and skills both inside and outside of the classroom.

Opting for Novel Education: Education that empowers, challenges, and inspires

The learners of today want the institutions to reframe the existing toolkit and the design of new learning artifacts. They are opting for courses where ensuring learning outcomes is at the centre of the framework, above all else. The shift in choices makes it explicit that, in agreement, students opt for a pedagogical strategy that includes a cohesive view of their professional growth. The programs that are designed to facilitate the assimilation of global issues and the development of transferable skills are surely at the top of the charts. Another new aspect is flexibility, which makes it more important than ever to respond to the educational needs of each group of students.

A large proportion of higher education institutions’ programs have been designed with the expectation that students will be placed face-to-face with their peers and professors. This created priceless opportunities to improve active learning. The pandemic altered it dramatically and, most likely, permanently.

The fact of the matter is that future jobs will be done by small teams that collaborate across spatial and temporal boundaries. Effective collaboration and the development of a productive work community have become critical to achieving professional success, particularly in the digital space. The pandemic turned out to be an opportunity to better prepare students for the future.

Deploy academic technology as a long-term means of meeting the education-learning needs of students and teachers; otherwise, technology risks becoming a complex and costly distraction. Using technology to assist in educational consistency is a debatable topic all over the world. Countries use whatever technology they can get their hands on, from radios to televisions to computers to mobile phones.

After Covid-19, the global community and learners specifically envision technology-enhanced educational systems. Articulating such a vision is critical, and it can navigate the future amidst the myriad of decisions that education leaders make each day. With the pandemic’s devastating effects affecting the most vulnerable young people the most, it’s interesting to return to a global education narrative that takes precedence over access to education above everything else. A student driven education system is what students deserve, not just in India, but in every community, and it is possible if all parties involved work together to capitalize on the opportunities provided by this emergency to truly leapfrog education forward.

The author is CEO-The Lexicon Group of Institutes

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STUDY FINDS PARENTS TALK LESS TO KIDS WHEN EXPERIENCING FINANCIAL ISSUES

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A team of researchers has provided the first evidence that parents may talk less to their kids when experiencing financial scarcity.

The study has been published in the ‘Developmental Science Journal’. “We were interested in what happens when parents think about or experience financial scarcity and found evidence that such strain could suppress their speech to their children,” said study senior author Mahesh Srinivasan, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley.

“Our results suggest that parenting training may not be sufficient to close the academic achievement gap without addressing the broader issue of income inequality,” Srinivasan added.

The study’s preliminary results lend credence to the developmental and educational benefits of such poverty-cutting government programs as the federal American Rescue Plan’s Child Tax Credit and other supplemental cash payouts for needy families.

“Existing interventions toward eliminating the word gap have often focused on improving parenting skills,” Srinivasan said.

“But our findings suggest that relieving parents of their financial burdens, such as through direct cash transfers, could also substantially change the ways they engage with their kids,” he added.

In the first experiment, researchers sought to observe how parents would interact with their children (in this case, 3-year-olds) after the parents were asked to describe times in which they had recently experienced scarcity. A control group of parents were instead asked to describe other recent activities.

Of the 84 parents in the study, those in the experimental group who described their experiences of financial scarcity spoke less to their 3-year-olds during laboratory observations than parents who reflected on other forms of scarcity (like not having enough fruit), or parents who had not been asked to recollect experiences of resource insecurity.

The second experiment used existing data collected via LENA technology, tiny “talk pedometer” devices worn by children that record their conversations and count the words they hear and say.

As the researchers predicted, analyses revealed that parents engaged in fewer conversational turns with their children at the month’s end, a time that typically coincides with money being tight as parents await pay checks or other sources of income.

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