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How to get young kids to help you: We speak as we feel, and we feel as we speak

Want a young child to 'help' or 'be a helper'? Choice of words matters. How do you get a preschooler to help with activities, chores, and other household tasks? Don't use the word 'chores'. Instead, use the word 'activities.' A new study suggests that adults' word choice can make a big difference. The study, "Helping" Versus "Being a Helper": Invoking the Self to Increase Helping in Young Children," by researchers at the University of California, San Diego, the University of Washington, and Stanford University, appears online since April 29, 2014 in the journal Child Development.

Use the noun 'helper' instead of the verb 'help' to motivate kids to give you a hand.
Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images

The researchers carried out two experiments with about one hundred and fifty 3- to 6-year-olds from a variety of ethnic and racial backgrounds who came from middle- to upper-middle-class homes. In both experiments, an adult experimenter began by talking to children about helping, according to an April 30, 2014 news release, "Want a young child to 'help' or 'be a helper'? Choice of words matters."

Children who heard the noun wording (helper) helped significantly more than children who heard the verb wording (help). When the experimenter talked to youngsters about helping, using verb wording, the children didn't help any more than when the experimenter never brought up helping at all.

So, if you want kids to help more, just use the word 'helper' (use a noun) instead of the active verb 'help' because kids respond to the new role of being a helper (as in the I'm a big kid now ad for pull-up pants). What may happen is that the noun, 'helper' is positive. The kid feels more important, in control, powerful because helper is a role, like a royal title or even an important position in the family.

You're useful, wanted, needed as a helper. if you use help as a verb, it sounds like a chore instead of an activity. Help as a verb takes away precious time from a kid's playtime or enjoyment of the moment. But being a helper is positive when it comes to a kid's identity. The helper (as a noun) role motivates the kid to do more, eat what's on the plate, or participate as part of the family or team. The result is motivation.

For further information, you may wish to see, "Helping" Versus "Being a Helper": Invoking the Self to Increase Helping in Young Children," by Bryan, CJ (University of California, San Diego), Master, A (University of Washington), and Walton, GM (Stanford University). Copyright 2014 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. The study is published in the journal Child Development. Authors of the study are Christopher J. Bryan, Allison Master, and Gregory M. Walton. You also may want to see the website of the Society for Research in Child Development.

Researchers have finally found the link between language and emotions. We speak as we feel -- we feel as we speak: Researchers explain the link between language and emotions. In another study by different researchers, a team of scientists headed by the Erfurt-based psychologist Professor Ralf Rummer and the Cologne-based phoneticist Professor Martine Grice (University of Cologne) carried out some ground-breaking experiments to uncover the links between language and emotions.

The researchers were able to demonstrate that the articulation of vowels systematically influences our feelings and vice versa, according to a new study, "Mood is linked to vowel type: The role of articulatory movements," published online since April 2014 in Emotion, the journal of the American Psychological Association. This research project looked at the question of whether and to what extent the meaning of words is linked to their sound.

The specific focus of the project was on two special cases; the sound of the long 'i' vowel (/i:/) and that of the long, closed 'o' vowel (/o:/). Rummer and Grice were particularly interested in finding out whether these vowels tend to occur in words that are positively or negatively charged in terms of emotional impact. For this purpose, they carried out two fundamental experiments.

Artificial words were created to express positive and negative moods

In the first experiment, the researchers exposed test subjects to film clips designed to put them in a positive or a negative mood and then asked them to make up ten artificial words themselves and to speak these out loud. They found that the artificial words contained significantly more '/i:/'s than '/o:/'s when the test subjects were in a positive mood. When in a negative mood, however, the test subjects formulated more 'words' with '/o:/'s.

The second experiment was used to determine whether the different emotional quality of the two vowels can be traced back to the movements of the facial muscles associated with their articulation. Rummer and Grice were inspired by an experimental configuration developed in the 1980s by a team headed by psychologist Fritz Strack. These researchers instructed their test subjects to view cartoons while holding a pen in their mouth in such a way that either the zygomaticus major muscle (which is used when laughing and smiling) or its antagonist, the orbicularis oris muscle, was contracted, according to the June 25, 2014 news release, "We speak as we feel -- we feel as we speak."

In the first case, the test subjects were required to place the pen between their teeth and in the second case between their lips

While their zygomaticus major muscle was contracted, the test subjects found the cartoons significantly more amusing. Instead of this 'pen-in-mouth test', the team headed by Rummer and Grice now conducted an experiment in which they required their test subjects to articulate an 'i' sound (contraction of the zygomaticus major muscle) or an 'o' sound (contraction of the orbicularis oris muscle) every second while viewing cartoons. The test subjects producing the 'i' sounds found the same cartoons significantly more amusing than those producing the 'o' sounds instead.

In view of this outcome, the authors concluded that it would seem that language users learn that the articulation of 'i' sounds is associated with positive feelings and thus make use of corresponding words to describe positive circumstances. The opposite applies to the use of 'o' sounds. And thanks to the results of their two experiments, Rummer and Grice now have an explanation for a much-discussed phenomenon. The tendency for 'i' sounds to occur in positively charged words (such as 'like') and for 'o' sounds to occur in negatively charged words (such as 'alone') in many languages appears to be linked to the corresponding use of facial muscles in the articulation of vowels on the one hand and the expression of emotion on the other.

You also may wish to look at another research article, "Happiness Is Best Kept Stable: Positive Emotion Variability Is Associated With Poorer Psychological Health (PDF, 171KB)." Or see the abstract of another study, "Gut check: Reappraisal of disgust helps explain liberal–conservative differences on issues of purity." You also can take a look at "Evidence for cultural dialects in vocal emotion expression: Acoustic classification within and across five nations."

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