It is a strange feeling, stumbling upon an experience that we wish we had the apt words to describe, a precise language to capture. When we don’t, we are in a state of hypocognition, which means we lack the linguistic or cognitive representation of a concept to describe ideas or interpret experiences. The term was introduced to behavioural science by the American anthropologist Robert Levy, who in 1973 documented a peculiar observation: Tahitians expressed no grief when they suffered the loss of a loved one. They fell sick. They sensed strangeness. Yet, they could not articulate grief, because they had no concept of grief in the first place. Tahitians, in their reckoning of love and loss, and their wrestling with death and darkness, suffered not from grief but a hypocognition of grief.

No one, in fact, is immune to hypocognition. In my research with the psychologist David Dunning at the University of Michigan, we asked American participants: have you ever heard of the concept benevolent sexism?

If you haven’t, this is a term describing a chivalrous attitude that appears favourable towards women, but actually reinforces traditional gender roles and perpetuates gender stereotypes. When a professor says ‘Women are fragile and delicate creatures,’ or when a neighbour jests ‘I let my wife deal with paint colours – women are good at that kind of stuff,’ you can sense the discomfort lingering in air. Such comments reflect benevolent sexism because they sound like compliments, but carry presumptions of women as either the fragile damsel in need of protection or the default caretaker laden with household labour.

Read the full article at Aeon.