Category: Language

We Find Some Word Sounds More Emotionally Arousing Than Others

By Emma Young

Of all “cross-modal” findings, the most famous is surely the bouba-kiki effect — that we tend to pair round, blobby shapes with the sound bouba and spiky shapes with kiki. However, research has not yet revealed why this effect is common among adults who speak very different languages — and even in infants as young as four.

Various theories have been put forward. One holds that levels of emotional arousal may be key — that both kiki and a spiky shape trigger relatively high levels of arousal, compared with bouba and a blob. Now a new study, reported in Psychological Science, provides compelling evidence for this idea. The researchers also take their findings further, arguing that they could have important implications for understanding the early evolution of languages.

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Finally, One Area Where We Don’t Think We’re Better Than Others: Remembering Names

By Matthew Warren

We tend to see ourselves as better than our peers across a whole range of traits and skills. We think we’re more environmentally friendlymorally superior, and more observant than those around us. The bias can even spill over to our perceptions of our loved ones: we overestimate the intelligence of our romantic partners, for instance.

But according to a new study in Psychology and Aging there’s one domain where we don’t see ourselves as “better than average”: remembering other people’s names.

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This Hard-To-Read Font Was Designed To Boost Memory — But It Might Not Actually Work

By Emily Reynolds

Whether we’re learning a new language, prepping for a job interview or simply trying to remember what we went into the kitchen for, many of us are keen to cultivate a better memory. And often strategies that add an element of effort or difficulty can help: drawing things rather than writing them down, for example, or generating questions about study material rather than simply reading it.

So in 2018, there was much fanfare when a team from Australia’s RMIT University developed a difficult-to-read font, Sans Forgetica, that they said could boost memory through such a “desirable difficulty”.

But new research in Memory from Andrea Taylor and colleagues from the University of Warwick and the University of Waikato, New Zealand, has put the font to the test — and found little evidence that it actually improves our memory. Continue reading “This Hard-To-Read Font Was Designed To Boost Memory — But It Might Not Actually Work”

Researchers Once Found That People Believe In “Climate Change” More Than “Global Warming” — But Word Choice No Longer Seems To Matter

By guest blogger Jesse Singal

One of the biggest political challenges of this era is getting powerful people to take the threat of climate change seriously. The most straightforward way to do that would be with bottom-up pressure: if the people who vote demand that their leaders take assertive action against climate change, then politicians will have no choice but to do so (at least if they want to get into office, or to stay there). The major challenge to this, in turn, has been the lingering influence of climate denialism: disbelief in the reality that humans are the cause of climate change, or in the seriousness of the problem.

What can be done to combat climate denialism? Back in 2011, the researchers Jonathon P. Schuldt, Sara H. Konrath, and Norbert Schwarz published an article in Public Opinion Quarterly which suggested one possible partial remedy: framing the issue a bit differently. They found that 75.0% of Americans expressed belief in “climate change,” but only 67.7% in “global warming.” It was Republicans driving this effect: among this more politically conservative subset of Americans, the difference was 60.2% versus 44.0%.

Those findings suggested that environmental campaigns and policy initiatives might do better if they refer to “climate change” rather than “global warming”, write Alistair Raymond Bryce Soutter and René Mõttus in a new paper in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. But while some follow-up studies had been conducted on this issue, with fairly mixed results, no one had yet carried out a direct, pre-registered replication. So Soutter and Mõttus attempted to both replicate the original result and expand it to two other countries: the United Kingdom and Australia. (This gave them a total sample size of 5,717, about double that of the original study.)

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When A Friend Is Upset, Validating Their Feelings Could Be The Best Way To Comfort Them

By Emily Reynolds

Knowing what to say when a friend is upset or stressed out can be a delicate balancing act. Sometimes the best route seems to be to offer advice and give practical suggestions as to how they should proceed; at other times, simply listening to what your friend has to say is by far the better option. But no matter your approach, ensuring that your friend feels validated is key, argue Xi Tian and colleagues in a new study published in the Journal of Communication.

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Gender Prejudice Is More Common In Languages With Grammatical Genders

By Emma Young

Does the language that you speak influence what you think? And do languages that assign a gender to most nouns — such as French and Spanish — lead speakers to feel differently about women versus men, compared with languages that don’t — such as Chinese? Both questions have been hotly debated. But now a major new study, involving an analysis of millions of pages of text in 45 different languages from all over the world, concludes that gendered languages shape prejudice against women.

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Speaking “Parentese” With Young Children Can Boost Their Language Development

By Emily Reynolds

Language learning can be a matter of much concern for new parents, who often worry about what their baby is saying, how they’re saying it, and when. With previous research suggesting that frequent verbal engagement with babies can boost vocabulary and reading comprehension, this preoccupation is not without merit. But even those parents who aren’t too fixated on baby’s first word may in fact be improving their offspring’s language, even if they’re not aware of it.

A form of speech dubbed “parentese” may be a key factor in improving language learning in infants, a new study in PNAS has suggested. Naja Ferjan Ramírez and colleagues from the University of Washington examined the distinctive form of sing-song speech often aimed at babies, finding that it improved conversation between parents and their children and even boosted language development.

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Here’s How We Perceive The Political Leanings Of Different Fonts

Photo: The serif font Jubilat was used on signs for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid — though a new study suggests that sans serifs are generally seen as more liberal. Credit: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images.

By Emily Reynolds

Fonts can be very distinctive indeed. Even if robbed of their original context, it can be easy to identify the fonts used on the front of a Harry Potter book, adorning a Star Wars poster, or on the side of a Coca-Cola can, to name a few examples.

But particular fonts can also leave us with other impressions: the font used to brand a beloved book, for example, has different emotional connotations to the one you use to type emails. And according to new research in Communication Studies from Katherine Haenschen and Daniel Tamul at Virginia Tech, particular fonts may also carry some political connotations, too.

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The Precise Meaning Of Emotion Words Is Different Around The World

love multilingual wordBy Emily Reynolds

When you can’t quite put your finger on how you’re feeling, don’t worry — there may be a non-English word that can help you out. There are hundreds of words across the world for emotional states and concepts, from the Spanish word for the desire to eat simply for the taste (gula) to the Sanskrit for revelling in someone else’s joy (mudita).

But what about those words that exist across many languages — “anger”, for example, or “happiness”? Do they mean the same thing in every language, or do we experience emotions differently based on the culture we are brought up in? Is the experience we call “love” in English emotionally analogous with its direct translation into Hungarian, “szerelem”, for example?

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When A Word Is On The Tip Of Our Tongue, We Are More Likely To Take Risks

GettyImages-960038018.jpgBy Matthew Warren

“What’s the name of that actor again? The one who was on that show? Oh, it’s right on the tip of my tongue..!”

That “tip-of-the-tongue” state — where we feel that we’re just on the verge of recalling a word or name — is probably familiar to us all. And it’s been the subject of much research by psycholinguists, who think it happens when we’re able to retrieve a concept or meaning, but not translate that into the letters and sounds of a word.

Now a new study in Memory & Cognition has found that when people experience tip-of-the-tongue states, they also become more likely to take risks — suggesting that the phenomenon can exert a surprising influence on completely unrelated behaviour.

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