(203) 453-5067 Laura@HandleEducation.com

Language and the Mind/Body Connection

In a past blog, I discussed how use of language affects morality. But the power of language expands far beyond moral issues.  In a lecture series in Great Courses,  Dr. Peter Vishton elaborates on the intricate connections between language and mind/body. He provides research-based proof that an individual’s thoughts manifest themselves even on a person’s physiology. Dr. Vishton states, “Language is a central feature of how our brain makes sense of the world around us . . . so the language we use can greatly affect our thinking.”  He cites research by Dr. Vanessa Patrick regarding the effects of self-talk and motivation. Her research paper, “I Don’t versus I Can’t: When Empowered Refusal Motivates Goal-Directed Behavior,” demonstrated that when a group of dieters were offered a piece of chocolate cake, those who replied, “I don’t eat chocolate cake,” were much more successful at resisting temptation than those who responded, “I can’t eat chocolate cake.” She maintains that the word “don’t” indicates intrinsic motivation, so dieters who had that self-talk were making a choice and, thus, felt empowered. Yet “can’t” indicates asking permission, which is related to extrinsic motivation.Thus, the concept of Think Yourself Thin may appear to have some basis in reality.  Furthermore, she contends that this principle extends beyond dieting. If someone wants to eliminate a bad habit, using self-talk with don’t versus can’t appears to be a more effective strategy. Furthermore, Dr. Vishton discusses another research study that indicated that the language centers of the brain influence calorie expenditure. He cites the work of Dr. Crum of Stanford and Dr. Langer of Harvard, who enlisted hotel housekeepers to test their hypothesis about changing their mindsets regarding how they viewed their work.  The… Read More »

Why all the UPTALK?

  I’m sensitive to language, both oral and written. When someone utters a grammatical faux  pas or malapropism, I try hard not to make a face, even though I cringe inwardly.  So, I am miffed by the content barrage of uptalk everywhere I turn. For the uninitiated, let me explain the term.  An article in Psychology Today, by Hank Davis, defined it as follows: “Uptalk. That ever-growing tendency to end statements with upward inflections to make them sound like questions. Like you’re not quite sure what you’re saying is true. Or clear. Or will be acceptable to your audience. To suggest that you’re willing to back down, or restate your point, or change your viewpoint altogether if your listeners don’t nod their approval.” When we learned sentence structure in our early elementary school years, we associated different sentence types with their respective punctuation marks and inflections. Declarative sentences, those that convey a statement, wish or desire, end in periods, and a person’s voice lowers at the end of that type of sentence. For example, “Today, I bring you the latest news.” This sentence should be declared with assurance and a lowered inflection. Interrogative sentences, on the other hand, are questions, and their punctuation is a question mark. In this case, a speaker’s voice ends with an upward inflection. “Televised news establishes linguistic norms for millions of people.” So, when news commentators use uptalk, are they reading tele-prompters filled with question marks?  (Now that deserves an upward inflection!) Every time someone utters a sentence in uptalk, he sounds tentative. And I use the male pronoun purposely, because although this phenomenon probably started with girls, it… Read More »

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