Speaker's power to act on words influences listeners' brain response

July 24, 2013

A speaker's power to act on his words influences how a listener perceives the meaning of their message, according to research published July 24 in the open access journal PLoS ONE by Ina Bornkessel-Schlesewsky from the University of Marburg, Germany, and colleagues from other institutions.

For example, listeners are more likely to believe a political figure is capable of acting on the words "Tear down this wall!" than when an ordinary citizen makes the same statement. In this study, researchers presented participants with videotaped statements about politics spoken by a top -maker, a news anchor or an unknown person. In a second scenario, the same people uttered statements related to general world knowledge. Brain responses to implausible statements about current affairs differed when uttered by a political figure as opposed to the other speakers, but implausible general world knowledge statements led to a similar brain response across all three speakers.

The effects occur rapidly, within 150-450 of hearing a statement, and demonstrate that a listener's response to a message is immediately influenced by the social status of the speaker, and whether he or she has the power to bring about the state of affairs described by their words. Bornkessel-Schlesewsky explains, "Every day, we hear statements that surprise us because they do not correspond to what we (think we) know about the world. Our study demonstrates that, in understanding such utterances, our brain rapidly takes into account who said them (e.g. a versus our neighbor) and whether he or she in fact has the power to act upon what was said."

Explore further: True or false? How our brain processes negative statements

More information: PLoS ONE 8(7): e69173. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069173

Related Stories

True or false? How our brain processes negative statements

February 11, 2009

Every day we are confronted with positive and negative statements. By combining the new, incoming information with what we already know, we are usually able to figure out if the statement is true or false. Previous research ...

How we think before we speak: Making sense of sentences

February 20, 2009

We engage in numerous discussions throughout the day, about a variety of topics, from work assignments to the Super Bowl to what we are having for dinner that evening. We effortlessly move from conversation to conversation, ...

Recommended for you

Sleep makes relearning faster and longer-lasting

August 22, 2016

Getting some sleep in between study sessions may make it easier to recall what you studied and relearn what you've forgotten, even 6 months later, according to new findings from Psychological Science, a journal of the Association ...

Psychosis associated with low levels of physical activity

August 25, 2016

A large international study of more than 200,000 people in nearly 50 countries has revealed that people with psychosis engage in low levels of physical activity, and men with psychosis are over two times more likely to miss ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.