People use the word “nice” constantly in all sorts of contexts. But nobody has really studied it. Until now.
 
Pamela Bettis, associate professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning, began studying the concept several years ago, interviewing adolescent and young teenage girls to better understand how they define “nice” and apply it to their peers.
 
Among these girls, she said, “nice” was the ideal, as differentiated from either “sluts” or “snobs.” Definitions changed according to one’s gender, race and socio-economic status, she said, but “nice” was still a desirable trait.
 
In her current work with adult women however, Bettis is finding that the concept of “nice” becomes much more ambiguous. She and her colleagues at the University of Alabama started out focusing on women working in academia and have broadened their interviews to include professional women in other occupations.
 
“What’s been interesting,” she said, is that a certain group of these women “are physically repulsed by the idea that someone would label them nice.” For them, to be “nice” is to be compliant, submissive or, in some sense, uncreative or unimaginative.
 
Other women talk about “nice” as a mode of behavior that can be strategically employed. In some situations it makes sense to “be nice,” but in others it doesn’t — and these women are conscious of their choices.
 
A third group of women do self-identify with nice and believe it is a positive trait. They might define “nice” as thoughtful, considerate or kind — a way of behaving that allows you to live in community with others.
 
Bettis will discuss her research as keynote speaker at the University of Idaho’s women’s leadership conference Oct. 19.