According to a new study launched last week, people’s heart rhythms change if they are exposed to linguistic errors.
Did this sentence make your blood boil? A new study from University of Birmingham It shows that there is a direct relationship between poor grammar and stress reactions.
– Although many may claim that they develop high blood pressure due to linguistic mistakes made by others, this study has revealed small reactions that we usually do not notice, Sarah Cameron, research fellow at the Department of Linguistics and Nordic Studies at UiO, tells Dagsavisen.
– We know that reading and hearing sentences with grammatical errors triggers a type of reaction in the brain, and that our students can detect that we react to this type of error, so it is interesting to find several types of physiological reactions.
Heart rate variability (HRV) measures the variation in time between heartbeats. The length of this period can vary when the person is at rest, but becomes more regular under stress. The study thus demonstrates a statistically significant reduction in heart rate in response to grammatical errors. The more errors, the more regular the heart rate. This is a sign of stress.
Linguistic cognition is about how the brain understands, processes and produces language. The nervous system regulates the body’s internal functions, such as heart activity, without you consciously controlling it. According to the study’s researchers, the relationship between these two has received little attention.
But this study now focuses on the relationship between the cognitive and the physiological.
More physical reactions
Since this is the first study to look at the relationship between grammatical errors and heart rate variability, Cameron won’t be sure of the mechanisms that lead to these stress reactions.
But in previous studies, where pupils have been observed to dilate when we read sentences containing errors, this is often associated with increased attention. I assume that the change in heart rate variability that they found in this study is right up the street that we’re looking at in this study, and that it may not be due to what we would define as stress on a daily basis, but rather it’s more about the fact that understanding what’s being said is more Difficulty when it does not conform to our expectations of the language.
According to the researchers, the study creates a new way of working with cognition, that is, the brain’s ability to receive, process and express information. This should be particularly useful in working with people who cannot express themselves verbally, for example due to age or poor health.
Native languages require little thought
One of the professors involved in the study explains that knowledge of the mother tongue is largely implicit. This means that using it does not require much thought. Therefore, it may be difficult to explain why the sentence is wrong. Only you see it. But assessing someone’s language abilities can be important for many questions about brain health.
Cameron is currently working on a study that looks at exactly what happens in the brain when we read sentences that contain grammatical errors.
– Preliminary results indicate that people whose mother tongue is Norwegian interact roughly with those whose mother tongue is English and Spanish. She points out that as far as I know, there’s no reason to think we’re special here.
She herself is not terribly provoked by linguistic and grammatical errors.
– Maybe linguists are a little annoying here. We are often not concerned with what is right and wrong, but rather why things that were unusual in language have suddenly become so widespread. One thing I see a lot of funny variations on is the use of words like his and his, in sentences like “I put him in his chair/I put him in his chair.” Another typical example of things people get upset about is the weak conjugation of strong verbs – bærte and særde, instead of bare and skar, for example.
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