The Importance of Language


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This is actually from a sociologist's testimony begging for more government funding of behavioral, social and economic research. However, this point is fascinating. It is valuable on its own merits.

"Our intuitions tell us that we can read other people’s expressions very accurately, but this intuition is often wrong. For example, in a carefully controlled study, I created videoclips showing facial expressions, vocal tone, and body language, and viewers accurately chose the intended emotion only about 33% of the time. This was better than random guessing (1 in 5, or 20%), but not by much. It is a surprise that people just aren’t that good at this fundamental skill, but it makes sense in the context of theories developed by SBE sciences. Notably, we tend to get information from multiple converging sources—including words and context in addition to nonverbal behavior—without typically relying on any one source alone."

"Statement for the Record of Dr. Hillary Anger Elfenbein, Ph.D." Before the United States House of Representatives Subcommittee on Research and Science Education of the Committee on Science, Space and Technology Hearing on “Social, Behavioral, and Economic Science Research: Oversight of the Need for Federal Investments and Priorities for Funding.” Washington, DC June 2, 2011

If you read her entire plea, you will find out also, that some tragedies at checkpoints in Iraq came from the misreading of non-verbal cues. We think it is "natural" that a raised open hand means "Stop." To the Iraqis, a raised hand is a sign that it is safe to approach. To Americans, it makes a difference whether that raised hand is an open palm or a closed fist.

Edited by Michael E. Marotta
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