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Words and thought

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20727761.500-whats-in-a-name-the-words-behind-thought.html?full=true

Gist – Words existing in our heads tells us that language plays a role in internal thoughts, not just external communication

Tags – language, words, thoughts, perception, mental experiences, benefits of words, labeling objects,

You think more words than you speak – perhaps because language really does shape the way we navigate the world…Measuring the contents of people’s minds is difficult, but it seems that up to 80 per cent of our mental experiences are verbal. Indeed, the extent of our interior monologue may vastly exceed the number of words we speak out loud. “On average, 70 per cent of our total verbal experience is in our head,”… language helps us to think and perceive the world….words bring a smorgasbord of benefits to human cognition, from abstract thinking to sensory perception. These effects may even explain why language evolved in the first place…Studies in the late 1990s indicated that infants are better able to group objects into categories – animals versus vehicles, say – if they have already learned the category names…spatial reasoning of young children is improved by reminding them of words such as “top”, “middle” and “bottom”…participants who were given names for the aliens learned to identify the predators far more quickly, reaching 80 per cent accuracy in less than half the time taken by those not told the names…found that when asked to label items, volunteers were later less likely to recall the specific details of products, such as whether a chair had arms or not (Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, vol 137, p 348). That’s because labelling objects helps our minds build a prototype of the typical object in the group at the expense of individual features, Lupyan says. This may not be as unhelpful as it sounds. “Memory is quite categorical, so we often don’t need to remember the specific details,” he adds…. ords you say, think and hear have a very real impact on the way you see… hearing verbs associated with vertical movement – such as “climb”, “rise” or “drip” – affects the eye’s sensitivity to such motion… Hearing a letter said out loud helps people pinpoint it among a string of other letters… words prime the visual systems of our brain, conjuring up a mental image that makes us more sensitive to the stimulus when it is seen. This phenomenon, in which our thoughts, expectations and sensations from the other senses can feed back into the visual system and alter what we see, is known as “top-down processing”… Russian speakers, who have two words for different shades of blue, really are faster at discriminating between the different shades than English speakers… thinks our personal monologue has a significant, though perhaps less pronounced, effect on cognition. “It’s difficult, or in many cases impossible, to manipulate inner speech experimentally,” he says. “But I don’t think words need to be heard out loud or seen in written form to have an impact.” Given that 80 per cent of our mental life appears to be verbal, that’s a profoundly important claim… If words can help us identify friendly and hostile aliens in the lab, they might also have helped our ancestors to learn which animals were dangerous and which not, or which berries were poisonous and which nourishing…. “Language is like augmented reality – an overlay that changes how we think, reason and see,”… Language, she believes, is how the human brain focuses on the essential details. “It’s like a guidebook that has been developed by thousands of people before you, who have figured out what is important for us to survive and adapt to our environment.”…

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