By Michael McCauley Lera Boroditsky is a Stanford University assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience, and symbolic systems. Recent research she’s done suggests that the words we use actually affect our thoughts. She has found that even something as seemingly small as the gender of nouns  can have a deep impact on the way we think. For example, in German the noun for “bridge” is feminine while in French it is masculine. When describing the same bridge, German speakers saw it as having feminine characteristics, using terms like “floating above the clouds,” “breathtakingly beautiful,” and “elegant and light.” When describing the same bridge, French speakers described it using masculine terms such as “immense,” “powerful,” and “a concrete giant.” Boroditsky also found that people tend to have a better memory for colors if each shade has a distinct name. For example, in English two different shades of blue would be commonly called light blue and dark blue. In Russian however, these same colors would be called “goluboy” and “sinly.” When given three color swatches and asked which of the bottom two was like the top one, native Russian speakers were much faster than English speakers when the colors had distinct names. In still another experiment, Boroditsky found that English tends to focus more on who is to blame for a particular incident – for example, “she broke the bowl” even when it was broken accidentally – while Spanish and Japanese describe the same event more like “the bowl broke itself.” When groups of English, Spanish and Japanese adults are shown video of the same event, sure enough, English speakers tend to remember who was to blame for the incident while Spanish and Japanese speakers tend to remember what was done. In Boroditsky’s words, “this raises questions about whether language affects even something as basic as how we construct our ideas of causallty.” What does this all mean? Simply, that the words we use in daily speech may actually “color” our thinking in subtle ways. It may even impact the neural pathways that are most easily formed in our brains. Definitely something to think about, but choose your words carefully!]]>

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