Human Brain Processes “Larger” Words Faster


iStock_000006935562MediumSometimes, bigger really is better. A new scientific study from the University of Glasgow reveals that the human brain processes words that refer to big things faster than the words for small things.

According to the study, when it comes to both concrete and abstract words, the brain will read and understand words that describe bigger things and ideas faster than those for small objects. In other words, “ocean” would be read and understood more quickly than “puddle.”  The same goes for words that aren’t as concrete. “Genius” and “greedy” will be understood and processed faster than “intimate” or “quaint.”

Neuroscientists leading the study confirm that when it comes to the way our brains work, size really does seem to matter, even when it comes to abstract ideas. The study, which included neuroscientists from both the UK and the US, used both actual words and nonsensical groups of letters made to look like a real word. Participants were asked to choose one of two buttons, indicating whether they believed they were looking at a real word.

On average, the 60 study participants processed words referring to larger objects or concepts roughly 20 milliseconds faster than their smaller counterparts. The reason for this discrepancy seems relatively simple, if still completely impressive. “Big” words, like volcano or panic, arouse our emotions more quickly and completely, than small ones like walnut or snug. And these emotional reactions are intimately tied to our brain’s ability to identify words and ideas.

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