New science shows brains are wired to respond to certain kinds of speech. An expert explains — and talks politics
By Jaime Cone
Everyone’s had the experience of leaving a conversation feeling frustrated, convinced the other person didn’t understand a word of what they were saying. Whether it’s a bad meeting with a coworker or an argument with a spouse, ineffective or negative communication may lead to more than just a bad day; new research has shown that it can change the neural pathways in our brains and foster long-lasting negativity. On the other hand, there’s evidence to suggest that positive words expressing values such as kindness and respect can go a long way toward building a better brain.
That’s the central premise of “Words Can Change Your Brain,” co-authored by Loyola Marymount communication professor Mark Robert Waldman and Andrew Newberg, M.D., director of research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Medical College. Their book argues that our minds are hardwired to respond favorably to certain types of speech and negatively to others. Starting in childhood, humans’ brains are molded by the words they hear, and they claim that teaching children to use positive words helps them with emotional control and can even increase their attention spans. Their book describes “compassionate communication,” a method they believe can help people express themselves more effectively, but it also offers a fascinating overview of the latest science around speech and neuroscience.
Salon spoke with Newberg over the phone about why mimicry creates good will, how the Mona Lisa won the heart of humanity, and why “hope” was the magic catchword of a successful presidential campaign.
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