Research Report: It’s not what you say; it’s how you frame it.

Girl attentively focused on what's in front of her (out of frame).Think of the verb “cause.” Does it make you feel emotional? Most likely, not. Now think of the contexts in which this verb occurs: cause problems, cause damage, cause harm. The framing of ’cause’ is emotionally negative. A recent study by a PhD student Bryor Snefjella and Dr. Victor Kuperman from McMaster Reading Lab,¬†published in a premier psychology journal Cognition, shows for the first time that contexts are as powerful in determining emotionality of an English word, as the word itself.

Says Bryor: “It’s been known that positive and concrete words (e.g., ice-cream or smile) are learned earlier in life, recognized faster in print and retained better in memory. What we show is that word learning, recognition and memory is equally strongly affected by how positive or concrete the contexts are in which a word tends to occur. To have a larger vocabulary, keep your contexts positive!”

Snefjella, B. and Kuperman, V. (2016). It’s all in the delivery: Effects of context valence, arousal, and concreteness on visual word processing. Cognition, 156, 135-146.

Read the preprint here.