Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Our brains often fail to notice key words that can change the whole meaning of a sentence

Date:
July 16, 2012
Source:
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Summary:
After a plane crash, where should the survivors be buried? If you are considering where the most appropriate burial place should be, you are not alone. Scientists have found that around half the people asked this question, answer it as if they were being asked about the victims not the survivors. Far from processing every word we read or hear, our brains often do not even notice key words that can change the whole meaning of a sentence, according to new research.

Far from processing every word we read or hear, our brains often do not even notice key words that can change the whole meaning of a sentence, according to new research from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

After a plane crash, where should the survivors be buried?

If you are considering where the most appropriate burial place should be, you are not alone. Scientists have found that around half the people asked this question, answer it as if they were being asked about the victims not the survivors.

Similarly, when asked "Can a man marry his widow's sister?" most people answer "yes" -- effectively answering that it would indeed be possible for a dead man to marry his bereaved wife's sister.

What makes researchers particularly interested in people's failure to notice words that actually don't make sense, so called semantic illusions, is that these illusions challenge traditional models of language processing which assume that we build understanding of a sentence by deeply analysing the meaning of each word in turn.

Instead semantic illusions provide a strong line of evidence that the way we process language is often shallow and incomplete.

Professor Leuthold at University of Glasgow led a study using electroencephalography (EEG) to explore what is happening in our brains when we process sentences containing semantic illusions.

By analysing the patterns of brain activity when volunteers read or listened to sentences containing hard-to-detect semantic anomalies -- words that fit the general context even though they do not actually make sense -- the researchers found that when a volunteer was tricked by the semantic illusion, their brain had not even noticed the anomalous word.

Analyses of brain activity also revealed that we are more likely to use this type of shallow processing under conditions of higher cognitive load -- that is, when the task we are faced with is more difficult or when we are dealing with more than one task at a time.

The research findings not only provide a better understanding of the processes involved in language comprehension but, according to Professor Leuthold, knowing what is happening in the brain when mistakes occur can help us to avoid the pitfalls,such as missing critical information in textbooks or legal documents, and communicate more effectively.

There are a number of tricks we can use to make sure we get the correct message across: "We know that we process a word more deeply if it is emphasised in some way. So, for example in a news story, a newsreader can stress important words that may otherwise be missed and these words can be italicised to make sure we notice them when reading," said Professor Leuthold.

The way we construct sentences can also help reduce misunderstandings, he explained: "It's a good idea to put important information first because we are more likely to miss unusual words when they are near the end of a sentence. Also, we often use an active sentence construction such as 'Bob ate the apple' because we make far more mistakes answering questions about a sentence with a passive construction -- for example 'The apple was eaten by Bob'."

The study findings also suggest that we should avoid multi-tasking when we are reading or listening to an important message: "For example, talking to someone on the phone while driving on a busy motorway or in town, or doing some homework while listening to the newsmight lead to more shallow processing," said Professor Leuthold.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). "Our brains often fail to notice key words that can change the whole meaning of a sentence." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 July 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120716091921.htm>.
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). (2012, July 16). Our brains often fail to notice key words that can change the whole meaning of a sentence. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 2, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120716091921.htm
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). "Our brains often fail to notice key words that can change the whole meaning of a sentence." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/07/120716091921.htm (accessed September 2, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Can You Train Your Brain To Eat Healthy?

Can You Train Your Brain To Eat Healthy?

Newsy (Sep. 1, 2014) New research says if you condition yourself to eat healthy foods, eventually you'll crave them instead of junk food. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Coffee Then Napping: The (New) Key To Alertness

Coffee Then Napping: The (New) Key To Alertness

Newsy (Aug. 30, 2014) Researchers say having a cup of coffee then taking a nap is more effective than a nap or coffee alone. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

Young Entrepreneurs Get $100,000, If They Quit School

AFP (Aug. 29, 2014) Twenty college-age students are getting 100,000 dollars from a Silicon Valley leader and a chance to live in San Francisco in order to work on the start-up project of their dreams, but they have to quit school first. Duration: 02:20 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Baby Babbling Might Lead To Faster Language Development

Newsy (Aug. 29, 2014) A new study suggests babies develop language skills more quickly if their parents imitate the babies' sounds and expressions and talk to them often. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins