Archive for Psychology of language

New directions in deception detection?

Jessica Seigel, "The truth about lying", Knowable Magazine 3/25/2021

You can’t spot a liar just by looking — but psychologists are zeroing in on methods that might actually work

The featured research is a review by Aldert Vrij, Maria Hartwig, and Pär Anders Granhag, "Reading Lies: Nonverbal Communication and Deception", Annual Review of Psychology 2019:

The relationship between nonverbal communication and deception continues to attract much interest, but there are many misconceptions about it. In this review, we present a scientific view on this relationship. We describe theories explaining why liars would behave differently from truth tellers, followed by research on how liars actually behave and individuals’ ability to detect lies. We show that the nonverbal cues to deceit discovered to date are faint and unreliable and that people are mediocre lie catchers when they pay attention to behavior. We also discuss why individuals hold misbeliefs about the relationship between nonverbal behavior and deception—beliefs that appear very hard to debunk. We further discuss the ways in which researchers could improve the state of affairs by examining nonverbal behaviors in different ways and in different settings than they currently do.

That review focuses on why peoples' ideas about clues to deception are mostly wrong, and why nobody is very good at detecting deception from behavioral cues.

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An Escher sentence?

Tom Ace writes:

(Possibly) an Escher sentence:

"The concept of mathematics being purely objective is unequivocally false, and teaching it is even much less so."

It appears on page 65 of this document.

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Donald Trump, now with more filled pauses

Today's shocking news story: "‘I just want to find 11,780 votes’: In extraordinary hour-long call, Trump pressures Georgia secretary of state to recalculate the vote in his favor", WaPo 12/3/2020. The full audio and transcript of the call is here.

But since this is Language Log, and not Political Chicanery Log, my take on the event is to observe a striking change in Donald Trump's speaking style.

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Fay-Cutler malapropism of the week


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What makes an accent "good" or "bad"?

Lacey Wade, a postdoc in the Penn Linguistics Department, is featured in the most recent episode of Big Ideas for Strange Times:

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"The subject-matter of universal grammar"

This semester, John Trueswell has been teaching a seminar focused on Lila Gleitman's recently-published collected works,  Sentence First, Arguments Afterward: Essays in Language and Learning. Last week, the paper under discussion was Cynthia Fisher, Henry Gleitman, & Lila Gleitman,  "On the semantic content of subcategorization frames", Cognitive Psychology, 1991. The start of its abstract:

This paper investigates relations between the meanings of verbs and the syntactic structures in which they appear. This investigation is motivated by the enigmas as to how children discover verb meanings. Well-known problems with unconstrained induction of word meanings from observation of world circumstances suggest that additional constraints or sources of information are required. If there exist strong and reliable parallels between the structural and semantic properties of verbs, then an additional source of information about verb meanings is reliably present in each verb’s linguistic context.

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Word substitution of the month

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Congressman Covid

In a statement on 7/29, Kevin McCarthy apparently meant to say "Congressman Gohmert" but what comes out is "Congressman Covid":

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Disfluency stylings: On beyond hesitation

Some things that "everybody knows" are refuted repeatedly by the experience of everyday life. A notably example is the function of "filled pauses", whose American English versions are conventionally written "um" and "uh".

Dictionaries all say that these are are expressions of hesitation, doubt, uncertainty; ways to fill time or hold the floor. The OED glosses uh as "Expressing hesitation", and um as "Used to indicate hesitation or doubt in replying to another". Wiktionary glosses uh as "Expression of thought, confusion, or uncertainty", or "Space filler or pause during conversation", and um as "Expression of hesitation, uncertainty or space filler in conversation". Merriam-Webster glosses uh as "used to express hesitation", and um as "used to indicate hesitation". Collins glosses uh as "used when hesitating in speaking, as while searching for a word or collecting one's thoughts", and um as "used in writing to represent a sound that people make when they are hesitating, usually while deciding what they want to say next".

So what are we to make of this, the opening phrase of an hour-long video interview?

uh thanks for tuning in today

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WFH Tech Issues

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Zoom fatigue

There are dozens of articles Out There on "Zoom fatigue", with a wide range of ideas about causes and cures.

Gianpiero Petriglieri offered the BBC a couple of hypotheses about why "Zoom calls drain your energy":

Being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat, says Petriglieri. Video chats mean we need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language; paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy. “Our minds are together when our bodies feel we're not. That dissonance, which causes people to have conflicting feelings, is exhausting. You cannot relax into the conversation naturally,” he says.

Silence is another challenge, he adds. “Silence creates a natural rhythm in a real-life conversation. However, when it happens in a video call, you became anxious about the technology.” It also makes people uncomfortable. One 2014 study by German academics showed that delays on phone or conferencing systems shaped our views of people negatively: even delays of 1.2 seconds made people perceive the responder as less friendly or focused.

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Metathesis in action

At the end of the May 1 episode of the NPR show "Milk Street", host Christopher Kimball interviews Dr. Aaron Carroll about a recent California court decision that could force coffee to come with a label warning that it contains a chemical known to cause cancer.

The chemical in question is acrylamide, and it's apparently created (in small quantities) whenever carbohydrates are heated above about 250 degrees farenheit — so bread, crackers, cake, cookies, pizza, pretzels, fried potatoes, corn chips, and lots of other things besides coffee that most people eat regularly. Dr. Carroll argues that the quantities of acrylamide involved are far too small to pose any measurable danger, and that warnings like this one have the bad effect of persuading people to ignore all such messages.

But this is Language Log, not Cancer Warning Over-Reach Log, so what's the linguistic point? It's the way that Dr. Carroll pronounces the name of the chemical in question.

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Moist aversion: The twitter thread

On Twitter, @muffkin7 asks readers to "Ruin a film by inserting the word 'moist' into its title".

Answers include "Gone moist with the wind", "All moist about Eve", "The good, the bad, the moist, and the ugly", "Little shop of moist horrors", and "Close encounters of the third moist kind".

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