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?
Until next time,