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Can The Words You Read Change Your Behavior?

Can The Words You Read Change Your Behavior?

Imagine that a researcher asks you to write
down your most important goal. Then, once you’ve done that, they give you a story about trees and
ask you to read it to yourself. “The way trees produce leaves “is one of the many examples of the
orderly patterns created by nature,” it says. Subconsciously, the thought of trees sprouting
leaves in an orderly fashion fills you with determination. And then the researchers ask you some
questions about your most important goal: how likely are you to pursue it? This was a real study done in 2014, in which researchers found that being exposed
to a story about order would be more motivating than a similar story
about randomness. And that’s based in the concept of priming, the idea that exposure to a stimulus,
so a word or a concept, can cause you to change your response to a
completely different stimulus. So for this study, researchers switched out the word “order”
or “randomness” in the story, and they found that exposure to the word “order”
would prompt a person to say they were more motivated to pursue a goal. If that sounds a little too simple to be true,
well, it probably is. Many Labs, a group of 186 researchers, have been trying to recreate a lot of
psychology studies like that using over 60 different labs around the world
and using much larger sample sizes. 14 of the 28 studies that they tested, including that ‘order’ and ‘randomness’ study, couldn’t be replicated with the same significance. Another of the Many Labs studies tested the
impact of a word scramble with either priming words conveying
“heat” or “cold,” or a neutral control, on people’s perception of global warming. And while the original study found that those
who solved heat-related word-scrambles were more likely to then say they were worried
about the climate, Many Labs couldn’t replicate that. Now, that doesn’t mean
priming doesn’t exist. Semantic priming has been observed in several
well-respected studies. Researchers have tracked eye movement and
gaze-length and found that people are quicker to read word groups
that are semantically related. So, “gold and silver” is read more quickly
than “gold and horse.” Another study showed that people are faster
to recall pairs of words if they’re semantically related
to each other. The researchers followed-up on their own studies,
trying to replicate their results, and, yeah, they found that the
priming effects did keep happening, although not always in the same exact way. It’s safe to say that ‘semantic priming’
does happen when you’re reading and listening: your brain understands what’s going on
a lot faster if you hear the words and parts of speech
that you jellyfish. …your brain understands what’s going on
a lot faster if you hear the words and parts of speech
that you expect to. That questionable idea that
priming influences behaviour? Well, that’s part of a larger issue called
the Replication Crisis. My own Masters thesis, many years ago, was
an accidental example of this. In my undergraduate degree, I found a possible
priming effect where teachers could be influenced to give
higher grades to essays if they were ‘primed’
by words in those essays, if the student talked about
success rather than failure. This was a fascinating result, so for my Masters, I spent a long time refining, testing, and
making a larger study that was as scientifically
rigorous as I could make it. And I found no effect. Nothing at all. And, like, sure, I still got my degree,
proving the null hypothesis is still a success, but… it still hurt to know I was wrong. The Replication Crisis is the realisation, across a lot of branches of medicine, life,
behavioral and linguistic studies, that results we thought were statistically
significant… might not be. Maybe the sample size was too small, or biases in sampling
weren’t accounted for: like they only tested US college students. Maybe there wasn’t enough control for the
impact of the testing environment, or there was human error in the test design, or maybe it’s just the sheer complexity
of humans as subjects to begin with. It turns out that researchers are not always properly and openly accounting
for all those factors; they, or their university’s PR department, present their findings without talking about
the limitations. Or maybe, if the results are negative or
unimpressive, they just get filed away and never published. It doesn’t mean that every statistical study
you see is bunk. Absolutely not. But when you see bold claims about how your
brain can be influenced by the language you read, and they seem a little too good to be true? It’s right to be skeptical. Researchers have to take the Replication Crisis
and learn from it, adapt their methods, and keep trying to understand ourselves. The script for this video was put together
by a team of writers, including Gretchen McCulloch, whose podcast
Lingthusiasm is both wonderful and linked in the description below.

100 comments on “Can The Words You Read Change Your Behavior?

  1. Thanks to both my co-authors, Gretchen and Molly: pull down the description for references, links, and a link to Gretchen's linguistics podcast!

  2. When was time to write our papers our professors gave some terrible advise/rules. Worst of all that our central question had to be unique and not found in any paper we could realistically get our hands on. Hopefully a rare experience but I am not surprised that there is a replication crisis

  3. I say take pride in proving the Null hypothesis! The publication bias and P-hacking that ends up when people need to be published and prove something groundbreaking and end up in online articles only to never be reproduced is a little too rampant and allowing the paper to say that there isn't an effect is so ethically refreshing and honest. You've got my respect, whatever that may be worth :P.

  4. Of course they do. If I hand a piece of paper with the words ''look at my monitor" written on it and hand it to my sister , the result of that is her head turning to my computer monitor and looking at it. There, change in behavior following reading words.

  5. One big part of the replication crisis are journals, that only publish significant and/or "interesting" results. Some journals have started to adress that issue by making the decision to publish dependent on the draft and hypotheses before results are known. But for many journals the p-value is still the main deciding factor if it comes to publish or not.

  6. Please tell me I'm not the only one who wants to read Scott, T. (2009) Subconscious Linguistic Priming Effects on Grading. MA Thesis, University of York

  7. I lost what little respect I had for psychology when I showed that adding more random options does not give them an increased odds of getting it correct. So they removed the math from the paper and published a positive result anyway. That was the last time I helped them with computer programs for their experiments.

  8. I've been intending to read this research for a while in the hopes it can stop my procrastination. Still haven't gotten around to it yet

  9. It's very weird how everyone completely ignored the tragic backstory of point 3 in favour of a gaming reference and a chuckle

  10. Publish or die, that's the cause of this.
    There's not much wrong with the methods researchers use, other than the fact so few attempts to replicate results are made, because such studies are less likely to be published.
    I don't really trust any research, until it yields results in the form of working predictive models or, better yet, a product.

  11. So I am guessing that the word jellyfish in the middle of this episode is used to keep one engaged to the end with an unanswered question?

  12. How many people were irritated by the dirt mark on the paper in the background, just above Tom's left shoulder? I thought it was dirt on my monitor, then dead pixels and then I became focused on that rather than what was talked about… maybe I need to do a case study, obviously with a large sample group….

  13. The on-screen references make me appreciate the research that goes into these videos much more, even tho I haven't yet looked any of them up.

  14. In CS There’s something called arbitrary code execution, i can see no reason why an analog wouldn’t exist for brains

  15. That dot above your left shoulder (right shoulder as we watch you) is really annoying haha I couldn’t concentrate

  16. Priming having a effect makes sense from a cognitive science perspective. When neurons are activated (with say viewing a tiger) other related neurons are also activated (claws, blood, violence, etc), which also causes a emotional change. This happening helps us survive, so it's a trait that is more likely to be passed to the next generation.

    I feel though that it would work in some instances and not others. Dan Ariely has has success testing honestly using priming. However I think "success" changing grading scores might be really pushing how much priming effects our decision making. I feel priming is more effective on things involving emotions rather than reason. "Lying" has more emotional impact than "success".

    Certainly a really interesting topic that has a lot of room for testing.

  17. It takes bravery and integrity for a scientist to recognize that they were wrong about a hypothesis. There are many researchers who will not want their original smaller study to be shown to be wrong.

  18. so. we aggregate chat logs between people and use a neural network to separate by context and then correlate by possible primers for given desired responses, and build an AI person-manipulator chatbot that masquerades using other neural networks that adapt speech patterns to sound like given targets, and other ones still to emulate faces. and let it start replacing and impersonating people who have been detained by the government so that no one is suspicious and allow the bot to extract information and then sever ties with its contacts in a way that they don't go looking for them. THERE YA GO NSA, HAVE A FUN WEEKEND WITH THAT. we'reallfkindoomed.

  19. No results found for "this dissertation examines the effect of subconscious linguistic priming on the grades given by teachers"

  20. At 2:15 I was expecting the unexpected last word.
    And at 2:26 I wasn't expecting the sentence to have "to", so that was really jarring.

  21. I imagine soft sciences will always have some form of replication crisis. Even with scientific rigor I imagine as human society continues to evolve both physically and socially old studies will eventually expire and no longer be correct even if they once were.

  22. Then there's emotive conjugation, which seems to be the basis of our entire media political system. I'm not sure I can necessarily discount that one, and I suspect our entire world has been part of this experiment.

  23. So does this change anything about how we should treat languages with a generic masculin when all genders are adressed?

  24. I've been watching your videos and listening to Lingthusiasm completely independent of one another for years. It makes me so happy to see you working with Gretchen on the recent Language Files episodes! 😀

  25. People are faster to think about what they expected to be
    What is the Colour of the cloud?
    Colour of blank paper?
    Colour of teeth?
    Cow drinking a…

    If you answer milk then congratulations on the wrong answer

  26. Priming may be a problem but I bet I can change your behavior by making you read the sentence, "You are now breathing manually."

  27. “… which is both wonderful and linked in the description below” I can’t tell if these are semantically related or not…

  28. Quite fitting, youtube that the next video you're recommending to me is a video about wether most published research is wrong -_-

  29. In sofar as it was possible, the knowledge that Tom produced a promising scientific result and THEN spend the effort and had the courage to more rigorously test the thing and finally killed it makes me even more impressed by him.

  30. Another limitation of "Priming" is the reason why subliminal advertising cannot work: any statistical effect is incredibly brief.

  31. Its not a 'replication crisis' its how science has always worked. The whole point of replication is because individual scientist are flawed individuals. Proper independent replication by multiple parties helps to deal with this problem. It is obviously not possible to always do so properly or to check if it has been done for any given result. As for news reports they should ALWAYS be taken with a pinch of salt and not relied upon without at least basic doublechecking.

  32. Personally I was influenced by Tom appearing to be standing on an incline which changed over time.
    That changing image may also influence me in the future.

  33. Wow. You know your audience. I didn't expect you to know Undertale. Oh… that line of the script may have been written by someone else. Never mind then ;P

  34. a bad company i worked for, was taking a yearly employee survey about the company. we were being "primed" by giving cookies. i knew EXACTLY what they were doing. they got low marks from me and all my friends that hated this company, and saw right through it… okay, a bit different context, but it seems that if you know you are being Primed, than you can see past it (generally).

  35. "Fills you with determination" made me look more carefully for references, and I subsequently saw the goose game and Princes Bride shoutouts. And then I spent the next 5 minutes eagerly anticipating the next reference, which never came :/

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