Scientists have shown the way in which words get an emotional meaning

on 04 September 2021
The brain's magic diet revealed

Have you ever had that feeling, that a belief you have is true but you cannot prove it? Well, scientists have very kindly confirmed a long-held view that I have, that the brain and mind create associations with words (auditory cortex) and sights (visual cortex) that stimulate internal mental states that effectively keep us locked into various mental health conditions . . .

Emotion creates feelings, then thoughts, then behaviour!

The essence of the above header is, that language is the external observable human transcript of internal neurochemical reactions, which occur on varying scales of deci/centi/mill/micro/nano/picoseconds! The brain detects information from our environment (stimuli), which is integrated and processed in the brain, to which the brain elicits a response i.e. a behaviour. The response often comes in the form of a feeling which translates into our frame of awareness when consciously perceived, as a thought, followed by or interspersed within a behavioural response. Language, at a certain level, is merely the tool for the conscious articulation of our awareness of these processes. The takeaway is that these are bottom-up, top-down processes, by that I mean, the presence of a stimulus can stimulate a thought (a memory engram), which elicits a behaviour and vice versa, followed by a thought/feeling. Amazingly, all of this can happen within minute fractions of a second, as stated above! So, the way you talk to yourself, and others, really matters!

In the 1860s the first iterations of “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” came to be. Interestingly, the nutritional value of apples is known to have existed as far back as the Romans. I fondly recall my grandmother telling me this little phrase around 66 years ago, at the age of 5 or 6 years old. However, scientific proof of the health benefits of apples is a relatively new thing. The point I am making here is, that we can know or believe certain truths in the absence of scientific evidence. So in many instances in life, science is merely ratifying what we already know and, mostly, removing any scepticism or doubt. It is the doubting side of our nature that causes many of the issues we face and nothing is exacerbating our scepticism and/or doubt more prolifically than social media. Social media is also, in my opinion, creating and further exacerbating the rise of global tribalism. This is where vast numbers of seemingly connected but,  in essence, disparate people on almost all continents, are taking up the mantle of a cause and using it to placate unresolved emotional and mental issues. This can create a false sense of security and it very definitely allows us to divert our attention away from the real issues in our life, onto a pseudo cause that gives us a sense of connected purpose. However, if this is nothing more than a subconscious ruse (as opposed to conscious calling), the net result will often be cognitive and emotional dissonance and that is definitely not a good thing!

So, based on my life and therapeutic experience, several years ago I theorised that the way we use language impacts the emotional states we experience. Especially when the dialogue is that of a collective group (tribe), at which, in reality, we have not true levels of congruence. These are seen in what is termed woke/cancel culture, where we seemingly stand for something that, at some level, conflicts with our truer deep structure of language. In some sense, deep structure language is akin to Freud's concept of the Id, the place where our primordial instincts manifest. These instinctual drivers can become distorted or corrupted through the disruptive and trauma-based experiences that emerge as our young lives unfold!  In that context, as our intellectual capacity increases, the acquisition of negative, vague or ambiguous language incites a proclivity towards negative states of mind. And in that vein, the brain’s defence/threat detection system updates and activates emotional memories. These memories are based on what we see, feel, hear, taste and touch in the present and which stimulates stored memories connected to the past. These updated memories are stored in neurons and networks of neurons throughout the brain. These neuronal networks communicate with each other via a process of electrochemical transmission. So, in that context what we term the mind, is better seen as the language of the brain. And while we are comfortable with the notion that we use our spoken and written language to communicate with each other, it’s quite easy to understand that we also use it to communicate with the mind and, thus, the brain.

In virtually all the clients I see, who suffer from anxiety, stress and/or depression, there is a high use of negative, vague and ambiguous language. The words and phrases they use actually seem to create a propensity towards creating the very thing we say we do not want. For example, I ask a client what they want (the outcome of the therapy) and they say, "I don't want to have this anxiety." But anxiety is what they don't want, not what they want. So, in the context of this research, it becomes clear that the words we use, create associations within our brain's networks that stimulate the very things we do not want! And while this research focuses on the way our visual system responds to words, with response in times of between 100 and 300 milliseconds (although speeds of 20 to 40 milliseconds have been noted in other research), the auditory system is far quicker, with response times of 8 to 10 milliseconds**. From an evolutionary perspective, that makes perfect sense because, by the time you have a visual awareness of danger, it may be too late to avoid it. Memory is a process that heightens some of our responses because memories are akin to algorithms of past events. This is virtually the way search engines and social media work, they store a record of past experience and as soon as you type enough letters to stimulate a keyword response, up comes the record or connection to your past activity. It also works in surreptitious ways, when you are looking at one page, be it a search response of a website and other memories (ads) are added. Often these are included with enough sensory stimulus to divert your attention from what you were there to view, to what they want you to view. This process is akin to periphery vision and/or auditory stimulus. At deeper levels, your brain has its own agenda, irrespective of what your intentions are and the primary driver of this process is survival. So, when we talk in terms of mind, whose mind is it?

**[Researches by Kemp (10) show that an auditory stimulus takes only 8–10 ms to reach the brain, but on the other hand, a visual stimulus takes 20-40 ms. Therefore, since the auditory stimulus reaches the cortex faster than the visual stimulus, the ART is faster than the VRT - 

Through hypnotherapy, I aim to help my clients change the way they think and how they use language and, consequential to that, the way they talk, think and behave begins to change. The outcome of this change of linguistic self-talk and the subsequent changes in verbal and non-verbal communication alter the way the brain expresses the emotional memories that perpetuate their emotional responses to false and erroneous stimuli, i.e. what they hear and what they see that is neither real nor dangerous, be that in the real world or the world from within!

Hypnotherapy stands out as one of the most effective strategic life management methods there is, especially in its ability to promote clear thinking and good states of mental wellness. The behaviours that make life challenging are often a result of too much stress, too little sleep and too little by way of clarity! So, to take back control of your mind and your life, it makes perfect sense to use a methodology that addresses the subconscious mind's role in perpetuating negative, vague and ambiguous states of mind. Hypnosis helps us to create calm relaxing states of mind that make life work better! If you would like to address any concerns you have in this direction, or, if you just want to make your life feel better,  then why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation? Hypnosis gives you the ability to have a good life! 

The objective here is to help people understand how and why we become illogically trapped into irrational emotional experiences that may actually be happening for reasons different to that which we would imagine! If you want to know more about how Hypnotherapy can help you; why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation?

For more information on the Free Consultation - Go Here Or, to book your Free Consultation today, you can do so here

The Research: 

Many objects and people in everyday life have an emotional meaning. A pair of wool socks, for example, has an emotional value if it was the last thing the grandmother knitted before her death. The same applies to words. The name of a stranger has no emotional value at first, but if a loving relationship develops, the same name suddenly has a positive connotation. Researchers at the University of Göttingen have investigated how the brain processes such a stimulus, which can be positive or negative. The results were published in the journal Neuropsychologia.

The scientists from the Georg Elias Müller Institute for Psychology at the University of Göttingen analysed how people associate neutral signs, words and faces with emotional meaning. Within just a few hours, participants learn these connections through a process of systematic rewards and losses. For example, if they always receive money when they see a certain number neutral word, this word acquires a positive association. However, if they lose money whenever they see a certain word, this leads to a negative association. The studies show that people learn positive associations much faster than neutral or negative associations: something positive very quickly becomes associated with a word or indeed with the face of a person (as their recent research in Neuroimage has shown).

Using electroencephalography (EEG), the researchers also investigated how the brain processes the various stimuli. The brain usually determines whether an image or word is positive or negative after about 200 to 300 milliseconds. "Words associated with loss cause specific neuronal reactions in the visual cortex after just 100 milliseconds," says Dr Louisa Kulke, first author of the study. "So the brain distinguishes in a flash what a newly learned meaning the word has for us, especially if that meaning is negative."

It also seems to make a difference whether the word is already known to the subject (like "chair" or "tree") or whether it is a fictitious word that does not exist in the language (like "napo" or "foti"). Thus, the existing semantic meaning of a word seems to play a role in the emotions that we associate with that word.

Story Source:

Materials provided by the University of Göttingen. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal References:

1Louisa Kulke, Mareike Bayer, Anna-Maria Grimm, Annekathrin Schacht. Differential effects of learned associations with words and pseudowords on event-related brain potentials. Neuropsychologia, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2018.12.012

2Wiebke Hammerschmidt, Igor Kagan, Louisa Kulke, Annekathrin Schacht. Implicit reward associations impact face processing: Time-resolved evidence from event-related brain potentials and pupil dilations. NeuroImage, 2018; 179: 557 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.06.055

Cite This Page:

The University of Göttingen. "How words get an emotional meaning." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 January 2019. <>.