Category: Language

Climate Change Appeals May Be More Effective When They’re Pessimistic

By Emily Reynolds

There’s no getting around the fact that climate change is an existential crisis of the highest order — but how best to communicate that threat is unclear. Too much pessimism and people become paralysed with anxiety, pushing thoughts about the crisis away altogether. Too much optimism, on the other hand, can lead to complacency — if things are going to be okay, why would we feel the need to engage with what’s going on?

It’s this tension that Brandi S. Morris and colleagues from Aarhus University explore in a new study, published in Humanities and Social Sciences Communications. They suggest that climate change appeals with pessimistic endings could trigger higher engagement with the issue than those that end on an optimistic note.

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People Use Jargon To Make Up For Their Low Standing In A Group

By Matthew Warren

Why do business people promise to “reach out to KOLs” when they could simply say that they will contact leading experts? How come judges sometimes remark that they will hear trials “in-camera” instead of just “in private”?

As infuriating as it can be, jargon actually performs a social function. By definition, jargon refers to language used by a particular group of people, in the place of more accessible words and phrases. And although that can make it frustrating and confusing for people not in that group, if you are a member then it can help signal to others that you belong. People may also use jargon as a way of displaying their expertise.

But according to a series of studies published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, those who are of low status within a group are also predisposed towards jargon-filled language. Zachariah Brown at Columbia University and colleagues found that these people appear to want to compensate for their lowly position by using language that is often associated with high status.

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Gruesome Descriptions Can Make Crimes Seem Worse — But Judges And Lawyers Are Immune To This Bias

By Matthew Warren

We often like to think of ourselves as impartial decision-makers — but of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Our day-to-day thoughts and behaviours are biased in all kinds of ways. But is the same true for people in the legal profession, which prides itself on its supposed objectivity and fairness?

According to a new study in Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, judges and lawyers may be immune to at least some of the biases that affect the rest of us. In particular, their judgements seem less prone to the biasing effects of emotive language.

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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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