All about the mind

Significance of a word

How much difference can a mere word make?For instance, telling someone you had a traumatic time giving your presentation when in fact, it was probably challenging and difficult. Or saying you are depressed when it is dull, grey and rainy rather than not in the best spirits in such weather.

Do you think these can have an influence?

You would certainly think so given the manner in which the media uses language to greatly sensationalise events. A rain storm is a disaster. A week of rainy weather is terrible, horrible, and awful. A minor incident is described as shocking. You get the drift.

Studies have shown that eye-witness testimony can be influenced by the language used. Back in the 1970s, a breakthrough study on the validity of eyewitness testimony by Loftus and Palmer had participants witness a video of a car accident and then asked them to describe what happened. Participants in different groups were asked specific questions about what happened when the cars hit/ smashed/ collided/ bumped/ came into contact with one another. A week later participants were asked to recall whether they saw broken glass. Results showed that the kind of words used in the questions had an impact on how many of them recalled seeing broken glass. in other words, the group that had the question using the word ‘smashed’ had significantly more individuals seeing broken glass compared the group with the question using the word ‘hit’. In fact, there was no broken glass at all. While this was mainly a study of eyewitness testimony and leading questions, it also brings to light just how we perceive situations based on the language used.

In a similar vein, are you therefore more likely to be more agitated and upset if you use the word traumatic to describe a situation that is say, difficult? I would think it likely.

I especially have an issue when people offhandedly use the word ‘traumatic’ to describe an event which may not be so. I see clients with real trauma. Clients from refugee backgrounds who have been through war and seen people killed. Clients who have been sexually or physically abused for years. Clients who have lived in a domestically violent home for years. Clients who have been assaulted once. These are traumatic events.

On the other hand, I get irked when a friend or acquaintance will describe a difficult situation at work or home as traumatic. Or the media who will talk about something not-so-traumatic as though it were. Or even parents or teachers or caregivers who want to validate a child’s feelings by stating how traumatic a break up from their boyfriend or girlfriend is. Break ups are sad and suck. But they are not traumatic!

I think we need to be very careful with the language we use. Whether it is to define behaviours or feelings or experiences. Being sad is not the same as being depressed. Hitting someone is not the same as bashing them. An unfortunate event is not necessarily the same as a disastrous event.

If we pay attention to the language used, we probably will have a better perspective over these thoughts, feelings, behaviours and experiences in our lives. If not, we are likely to be living the way in which the media portrays things — in extremes.

So, if we think “I always screw up” we are likely to be more disappointed in ourselves as compared to “I occasionally make mistakes like others” Language is interesting. But it can definitely influence the way we feel.

What are your thoughts on this? 


Do you notice if you tend to occasionally use language that is very exaggerated or extreme or global? 


Do share!

Until next time,

Cheers!!!

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No Comments

  • Reply
    Komal Bhatia
    August 20, 2011 at 7:25 am

    That’s so true. 
    We all have the habit making a situation which is unfavorable look so bad and ugly just by the way we describe it to ourselves and others. Just imagine, how much suffering and stress we can avoid  if you use  the right words..

  • Reply
    Komal Bhatia
    August 20, 2011 at 7:25 am

    That’s so true. 
    We all have the habit making a situation which is unfavorable look so bad and ugly just by the way we describe it to ourselves and others. Just imagine, how much suffering and stress we can avoid  if you use  the right words..

  • Reply
    Lifesorchestra
    August 20, 2011 at 7:52 am

    a lot of people I see, in order to gain attention and make themselves heard usually use exaggerated language and I think it is normal for them. Some even do it without realizing it 🙂 In addition to this, I would like to point out the pictures presented in the media with an article also greatly influence the readers even if it is taken long time before.

  • Reply
    Lifesorchestra
    August 20, 2011 at 7:52 am

    a lot of people I see, in order to gain attention and make themselves heard usually use exaggerated language and I think it is normal for them. Some even do it without realizing it 🙂 In addition to this, I would like to point out the pictures presented in the media with an article also greatly influence the readers even if it is taken long time before.

  • Reply
    Prateek
    August 20, 2011 at 8:31 am

    Indian news channel; prominent being India TV hyperbole each news and present it to its tiny viewers. They testify it.

  • Reply
    Prateek
    August 20, 2011 at 8:31 am

    Indian news channel; prominent being India TV hyperbole each news and present it to its tiny viewers. They testify it.

  • Reply
    maddie
    August 20, 2011 at 10:45 am

    I once had a chat with my friend who is a psychologist. We were discussing how important it is to label your emotions properly. Instead of saying that I am feeling sad and a bit down, we tend to exaggerate and say I am feeling depressed, which is definitely not the case. The words you use tend to affect your mood further. Similarly, if you say you are feeling ‘fantastic and inspired’ instead of just ‘am happy’ it will lift up your mood more. It’s important to keep things and events in perspective. We tend to see only 60% of the event and then paint the rest as we like it. It would help us more to see things for what they actually are.

  • Reply
    maddie
    August 20, 2011 at 10:45 am

    I once had a chat with my friend who is a psychologist. We were discussing how important it is to label your emotions properly. Instead of saying that I am feeling sad and a bit down, we tend to exaggerate and say I am feeling depressed, which is definitely not the case. The words you use tend to affect your mood further. Similarly, if you say you are feeling ‘fantastic and inspired’ instead of just ‘am happy’ it will lift up your mood more. It’s important to keep things and events in perspective. We tend to see only 60% of the event and then paint the rest as we like it. It would help us more to see things for what they actually are.

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    August 21, 2011 at 12:50 am

    Exactly Komal! It really helps if we put things in perspective…things are not that bad but we make it seem as though they are by the language we tend to use.

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    August 21, 2011 at 12:50 am

    Exactly Komal! It really helps if we put things in perspective…things are not that bad but we make it seem as though they are by the language we tend to use.

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    August 21, 2011 at 12:51 am

    I agree Lifesorchestra…many people probably do it without realising! And yes, don’t even get me started on my rant about the media…I have huge issues with the manner in which they present things to us…pictures, words, tone….all of it!

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    August 21, 2011 at 12:51 am

    I agree Lifesorchestra…many people probably do it without realising! And yes, don’t even get me started on my rant about the media…I have huge issues with the manner in which they present things to us…pictures, words, tone….all of it!

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    August 21, 2011 at 12:52 am

    I think it’s most news channels Prateek…even the US ones and some of the news here too…sadly, people buy into that sensationalism and think that everything is terrible and horrible and awful and what have we done to deserve all that!

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    August 21, 2011 at 12:52 am

    I think it’s most news channels Prateek…even the US ones and some of the news here too…sadly, people buy into that sensationalism and think that everything is terrible and horrible and awful and what have we done to deserve all that!

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    August 21, 2011 at 12:55 am

    Exactly Maddie! I’ve never tried the positive stuff because I’m quite cynical but even just labelling as being content and my negatives not being so bad helps the mood. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone tell me a situation was ‘traumatic’ when it wasn’t remotely so, I’d be rich by now!

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    August 21, 2011 at 12:55 am

    Exactly Maddie! I’ve never tried the positive stuff because I’m quite cynical but even just labelling as being content and my negatives not being so bad helps the mood. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone tell me a situation was ‘traumatic’ when it wasn’t remotely so, I’d be rich by now!

  • Reply
    starsinmeyes
    August 21, 2011 at 4:02 am

    Thanks for this post. I agree….real trauma is something truly awful. What we face more often is challenges, frustration and difficulties, all difficult, but not devastating.

     

  • Reply
    starsinmeyes
    August 21, 2011 at 4:02 am

    Thanks for this post. I agree….real trauma is something truly awful. What we face more often is challenges, frustration and difficulties, all difficult, but not devastating.

     

  • Reply
    Shail
    August 21, 2011 at 5:20 am

    This reminds me of how we (the husband and I) laugh each time we hear the announcement on TV, “Mega hit” “super hit”. It seems there are no ordinary good movies any longer. Every single one of them is a MEGA super-duper hit! 

    Jokes apart, yeah many times you hear words used that do not justify the occasion/mood/feeling. But then I tend to think may be those words will acquire those very meaning in the near future. 

  • Reply
    Shail
    August 21, 2011 at 5:20 am

    This reminds me of how we (the husband and I) laugh each time we hear the announcement on TV, “Mega hit” “super hit”. It seems there are no ordinary good movies any longer. Every single one of them is a MEGA super-duper hit! 

    Jokes apart, yeah many times you hear words used that do not justify the occasion/mood/feeling. But then I tend to think may be those words will acquire those very meaning in the near future. 

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    August 21, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Long time no see Starry…exactly…if we were to put our lives in perspective sometimes, we would see challenges…and challenges are a lot different to traumatic events!

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    August 21, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Long time no see Starry…exactly…if we were to put our lives in perspective sometimes, we would see challenges…and challenges are a lot different to traumatic events!

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    August 21, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Lol at the ‘super hit’ and ‘mega hit’. It is something like that, isn’t it? Positive exaggeration! 😛 I do agree the words will possibly acquire that very meaning Shail because the more we think we are depressed, the more negative thoughts we are likely to have and wham…eventually, we are depressed!!

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    August 21, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Lol at the ‘super hit’ and ‘mega hit’. It is something like that, isn’t it? Positive exaggeration! 😛 I do agree the words will possibly acquire that very meaning Shail because the more we think we are depressed, the more negative thoughts we are likely to have and wham…eventually, we are depressed!!

  • Reply
    Titaxy
    August 23, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    I am with you. Some words have the deepest of meanings that it can’t be used so freely for anything and everything. I am usually very careful about using the word “hate” and “trauma” or anything to mean a feeling that strong.

  • Reply
    Titaxy
    August 23, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    I am with you. Some words have the deepest of meanings that it can’t be used so freely for anything and everything. I am usually very careful about using the word “hate” and “trauma” or anything to mean a feeling that strong.

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    August 24, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    Hate is a very strong word T. Totally agree with you and try hard to not use it when referring to people in particular…

  • Reply
    Psych Babbler
    August 24, 2011 at 9:43 pm

    Hate is a very strong word T. Totally agree with you and try hard to not use it when referring to people in particular…

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