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Student Perception of Speed as Affected by Diction: how charged words, as opposed to academic and neutral language, heighten emotions, create bias and skew judgement with specific emphasis on outliers

It has been a long time since I have done a study. 1988, I think. Designed one or run one. A long time since I have written one, and I know I have made many errors here.

I have been telling my students that words matter. Words create perception and they can be used to create bias, emotion, action or inaction. We study appeals to pathos, logos, ethos, kairos.  Loaded language and logical fallacies. But I often sense they do not believe me.  So I thought I would put them in the middle of their own proof.

The result was many open eyes and one student who insisted he should be filming me as a TED talk.

The results are below.

 

Design
This study is designed to see if using a “charged” term, non-academic diction, can change perception of external events. Such language can be used to create bias or emotional states and it was my desire to demonstrate this to English honors and Advance Placement English Language and Composition classes. If the hypothesis is correct, this can demonstrate how “charged” terms can be used to control the overall responses of populations.

I hypothesis that using terms with a “positive charge” will increase perception of speed in a filmed vehicular accident.

Population
Three classes of tenth grade honors English students were tested, with populations of 18, 19 and 21. All classes were studying the same curriculum and in the same program at the same location in their curriculum and instructed with the same materials, methods and instructor.

Material
Each class was shown a five second film of a vehicular accident or a motorcycle striking a car that had just pulled out of a parking spot, as filled from a helmet camera. The film showed the motorcycle increasing in speed, with the sound of the engine extant, and striking the broadside of the car. It was made obvious, in the film, the rider was not hurt appreciably hurt, and there were no signs of injury in the film.

Method
Each class was asked to estimate the speed of the collision and to write the number, in miles per hour, on a note, but each class was asked using a slightly differently worded query. The control group was asked the question in academic diction devoid of purposefully charged language.  A second group was asked the same question with a word replacement or a neutral for a word with a “positive charge.”  The third group had a query with two words carrying a “positive charge.”

  1. What was the speed of the vehicle when the accident occurred?
  2. What was the speed of the vehicle when it smashed into the other?
  3. How fast was the vehicle when it smashed into the other one?

The notes were collected and the data compiled for mean, median and mode as well as lowest and highest outliers.

 

Population 1

27 mph average speed estimate

30 median

30 mode

Lowest outlier 4 mph. Highest Outlier 53 mph.

 

Population 2

33 mph average speed estimate

30 median

30 mode

Lowest outlier 12 mph. Highest outlier 55 mph.

 

Population 3

38 mph average speed estimate

35 median

35 – 40 split for the mode, with four estimates for each

Lowest outlier 18 mph. Highest outlier was 80 mph.

Results
The language with the least emotional charge, the academic diction, resulted in the lowest perceived mean speed as well as the lowest outliers.

The language with one added “charged” word increased the mean perceived speed 22.22% 33 mph over the control group
The median and mode did not shift but the lowest and highest perceived speed increased by 200% and 3.78% respectively over the control group.

The language with two “charged” words increased the mean perceived speed by 40.74% to 38 mph over the control.
The median increased 16.67% to 35 mph and the mode was split evenly between 35 and 40 mph. Using the mean of this mode to calculate percentage, the mode increased 25% over the control. Seemingly most telling is the increase in the outliers.  The lowest perceived speed increased from 4 mph to 18 mph (350%) and 80 for the highest (50.94%) over the control group.

It is clear using charged words increased perceived speed.

This can be extrapolated to other areas, such as crowd size, levels of violence, impending danger and many other real world events.

Interpretation
This demonstrates several things. Language can be leading/loaded even if language does not appear to be. Academic diction has the lowest “charge,” and this supports the need to teach students to be write in an academic fashion. It also supports the need to instruct them to understand the importance of diction, so they can recognize language which appears to create logos when it is really designed to create pathos, thus allowing students to notice subtle manipulations in language meant to create emotional responses to skew perception and/or drive opinion. Further, it demonstrates the need for careful word choice with high semantic value to decrease linguistic indeterminacy.

Replication and Refinement
In replicating this study, I would select a population corrected for gender and academic level to assure the populations were homogeneous. Further, I would add a 4th group with a variable “negatively charged” term to see if the perception of the estimated speed in such a group would be lower than the control.

In further refinement, I would like to test to see if changing the charged adverb (fast, slowly, quickly) or the verb (smashed, collided, hit) have differing magnitudes of affect.

Discussion
We are aware that journalism can look objective but, upon examination, we find leading words and loaded language hiding in the sentences. This can have an effect on how we perceive an event. The word “mob” used for an assemblage instead of group can, and does, affect how people perceive the assemblage and this carries over to the perception of the individuals within the assemblage.

While I understand, in this test, the outliers skew the data, and it is possible the outliers should be taken into account when calculations are made, the outliers are of interest in themselves. Both ends of the outliers rose with inclusion of the charged words. The outlier at the higher end is of particular interest as it is the outliers in a society that cause the most dramatic and concentrated change and cause the most trauma as well (terrorism, murder, mass shootings) and if a small inclusion of a charged word can create a large increase in the emotional response of the top outliers, this is worth noting.

While we cannot combat this in every instance, we can begin to educate students to be aware it exists and to be on the lookout for the use of such language. Words with a positive charge can be used to excite/increase bias and bring activity when coupled with a call to action.  Words with a negative charge can dampen responses and reduce activity. We see this in political rhetoric as well as in sales, and we are seeing it increasingly in social media and fringe news sources.

It is possible that educating children to recognise and not accept the charging of language may help reduce the effect of this.

 

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Posted by on December 13, 2018 in Culture, Education, psychology, Social

 

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I think I Am, Maybe

I think, maybe,
I’m made of fog,
settled overnight,
In the dark,
Seems solid
From afar, look,
Walk through it.
There is no substance.
It dissipates into
Air, the sun rises,
There is nothing there.

Do you remember fogs?

Or a ghost, maybe,
An accumulation.
An aggregate of
Used tos, weres
I remembers,
Definitions,
Suppositions,
And faint ideas.
Walk through it.
There is no substance.
It dissipates into
Nothing, the sun rises,
There is nothing there.

When no one is around,
Who notices a ghost?

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2018 in Poetry, psychology, Suicide

 

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I can Hear the Angles

I can hear the angels
Sing songs only the angels
Sing songs of being
Neither here nor there
Angels and those
Close to death
Sing songs often sweetly
Sing songs below hearing
For all those
Neither here nor there
Hearing the songs of
Angels and those
Near to being angels
Sing songs I hear
Everywhere.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2017 in philosophy, Poetry, psychology, Religion

 

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Stars

In my room,
3am, I have woken to
The awe of the black heavens.
Eyes closed,
the stars are
Beautiful. Bright,
Filling the sky
On this cloudless night.
I scanned the far reaches,
Constellations unnamed,
Clusters, and lone lights,
Galaxies, Nebulae –
The glory of the dark
Whose depths are infinite,
Ineffable. And, all at once,
Gone

These stars
Only I got to see.
For however many minutes
There was a
Universe of one.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2017 in philosophy, Poetry, psychology

 

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Kofia

He could be heard long before he was seen, booming his song. The bass slides down the isles, past the frozen fish, over the apples and oranges, down through the carts.

“He shops at Walmart/Just like you/He shops at Walmart/Just like me/Yes, he shops at Walmart/just like us/He’s got the whole world in his hand.”

I am here for a jar of peanut butter. Smucker’s Natural Chunky. And a small jar of grape jelly. I want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and have none of what I need for it. And rice cakes. I had told my daughter I would have it on rice cakes. Ultimately, while better for me, the texture would be wrong and it would leave me still wanting a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But the truth is having the real thing would also leave me still wanting a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I always want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. This time, just this once, I was giving in to it. Sort of. So taken with this desire, was I, that I pulled into Walmart.

“He’s got the whole world/In his hands/He’s got the whole world/In his hands/He’s got the whole world/In his hands/He’s got the whole world in his hands.”
Walking towards the peanut butter, meat to my left, the singing gets closer. The singing gets louder. The singing comes around the corner from the dairy. A man – black, built as though her were made of a barrel, seven feet tall. Maybe more. Probably less. Clothed in red and gold and browns from his shoes to his kofia. A kofia. One very much like my own, which feels so good to wear. Which, when wearing, leaves me feeling completed, whole, calm. The kofia that is never is worn out of the house – people might look. They might wonder. They might talk.

In his kofia, he is striding, pushing his cart, singing.

“Oh beautiful/for spacious skies/for amber waves of grain”

I have my rice cakes in hand, and heading toward the checkout. In line, behind me, a father and his son, eight or nine years old, and a few items. The singing walks by.

“Jacob rowed the boat ashore/Hallelujah/Jacob rowed the boat ashore/Halleloo-oo-yah.”

The little boy looks up to his father. “Why is he singing like that?” His father shrugs. I look at the older of the two, gesture in a way that asks if I may answer the child, and he gestures in kind. Yes, I may.

“Because he has somehow slipped past caring what other think about him. He isn’t concerned about what other people think. It probably doesn’t enter his mind at all. He is singing because he wants to. Like a lot of us would. But we don’t. We stop ourselves. He does it because he is not held by other people’s expectations or judgments and we should both learn something from that.

He looks at his father, who nods in agreement.

It is my turn to check out and, enviously, to the opening song from Oklahoma, I place my food on the counter.

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2016 in psychology, Social

 

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Letter of Resignation

Letter of Resignation
(On my third reading of Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse)

 
Vasudeva,
Is it really necessary
We live in this hut together?

Isn’t it enough
I gave you my clothes
For the privilege of tending oar?

Can I only find myself
In the eternal now of the river
Always flowing, but never the same?

Must I sit under that tree
For an entire week to find myself?
After a week, I should have found my navel by now.

Must I sit there to
Defeat my demons? Afterall, they are
At my heels no matter where I happen to be.

The lotus
Grows from mud, I know,
But I want a bath and clean soft towels.

Why can’t I find myself
In a club somewhere,
Meditating in the beat and the groove?

What about the
Constant flow of people and machines,
The never-ending now of the ever-changing traffic?

Why can’t I
Subdue my demons
Over a great meal or between olive thighs?

I resign.
Besides, Vasudeva,
You snore horribly.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2016 in Culture, philosophy, psychology, Religion

 

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When I Am Alone At Night

When I am alone at night,
When I go to bed,
In my head,
I disperse my goods.
I write notes,
Letters, long, detailed.
I imagine deep long rest,
Wonder if I’ve had enough.

When I am alone at night
I roll myself against the walls,
Scratch, stretch,
Rub, rock,
Hunger for sensation,
Pray for contact,
Want for touch,
Wonder if I’m here long enough.

When I am alone at night
I fail to create ambitions.
In my head,
I disperse my goods,
I write notes,
Look at bottles,
Estimate pills,
Wonder if there are enough.

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2016 in Culture, Poetry, psychology, Suicide

 

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