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What’s in a Name?

We are called Pakiri Lab for a reason. Pakiri is a quiet beach north of the city. But, that’s not the only reason that we’re called Pakiri. Names are important. Think about how long we spend deciding on a name for children and pets.

Pakiri is a Māori word and it means smile and show teeth. Smiling is a fascinating human behaviour, because it doesn’t seem to have a function other than a social one. For example, fear, disgust, and anger facial expressions all have protective functions: fear opens the eyes wide to detect danger; disgust partially closes the nasal airway, preventing contaminants entering the body, it also allows us to expel contaminants from the mouth; and anger lowers the brow to protect the eyes and sometimes we may bear our teeth as a threat. In contrast to these emotional facial expressions, smiling doesn’t offer us a functional advantage. The most likely function is that smiling allows us to communicate our state to others.

Pakiri can also be broken down into two words pā kiri, which translates as touch the skin. Again, this is relevant to our research because social touch is so important to humans. For example, we pay lots of money for massage that is often just stroking (but not all massage is gentle stroking); and fans go to great lengths to touch a popstar. Social touch is a growing research area in psychology and neuroscience because of the positive emotional effects that it seems to result in. We even have nerve fibres that only detect gentle slow stroking.

I spent a year thinking about a name for the lab. Pakiri was actually the first name that I thought of, and it was only by consulting with our Kaumatua Nephi Skipwith (Nephi provides our school with Maori cultural guidance) that I discovered the resonance of the name for the research that I conduct. Nephi officially named the lab at dawn sometime in June 2014 and performed a blessing the week before Matariki (Māori new year).

So we are Pakiri Lab and I look forward to telling you more about our research.



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About Pakiri Lab

Most human behaviour relates to emotion: either being influenced by emotions, resulting in emotions, or both. At Pakiri Lab we research these experiences using a range of psychophysiological lab based techniques, such as facial muscle activity and heart activity.

View Pete's research profile here

Pakiri Lab A Massey Blog