“What Do Cows Drink?” Trick Questions That Show How Your Brain Organizes Language.

Valley of the Lexicon

What do cows consume?

“Milk” was probably the first thing that came to mind when you were asked this question. And then you discovered, depending on your familiarity with bovine diets, that, wait, it’s the calves that consume milk—adult cows consume milk water .

What is it about this situation that makes it so difficult to respond correctly? What does this tell us about how language is stored and processed in our brains?

The current prominent theories of language processing revolve around “connectionist” models of language. The notion is that when you learn a term, it becomes easier to remember. connected to words and concepts that are similar, making it easier to recollect when you need it. These associations are formed every time you use the word, based on what is happening in the context at the time. Returning to our previous example, most of your cow-related interactions have most likely included the word milk As a result, your mind has made a connection between them. When one of the linked terms is said, the other one is triggered, and you’re ready to discuss dairy products and farm animals in general. It would take a long time to get there. milk from cow It would save time if they weren’t connected, and because you’re frequently discussing them at the same time. Efficiency!

However, shortcuts can also lead to mishaps. When you hear “cows” in “What do cows drink?” your mind immediately goes to “What do cows drink?” “Oh hey, cows!” your brain exclaims. We may require the word. milk I’ll get that ready quickly.” Your brain then jumps in with “Milk!” after you’ve heard the entire query, which is asking for something that gets intoxicated. You’re allowed to drink milk!” Because this is a one-of-a-kind situation, cows and milk If you travel together, the shortcut will remain strong, and you will continue to make the same error.

But our brains don’t simply connect bovine facts; they also generate a variety of other forms of shortcuts. Social scientists, for example, have looked into implicit preconceptions of race, sex, and other characteristics based on these brain connections patterns. Linguists have also tested which words are more connected with one other to see how our brains arrange and access words. However, because the kind of puzzlement that comes from a brain teaser is difficult to assess, researchers hide their hunt for word connections in other types of trials.

One frequent way, for example, is to place the participant in front of a computer screen and have them hit a green button when they read a real word and a red button when they read a fake word (such as “wug” or “blick”). Participants will see a completely unrelated word (the “prime”) right before the target word, which may or may not be related to the target.

So, just as you’re about to decide whether “milk” is a genuine word, you might encounter COW. When COW comes first, you’ll probably be quicker to say “milk” as a word than if you encounter an unrelated word like SPATULA before “milk.” Depending on the experiment, you may just see the prime for a fraction of a second and not even realize it, but the effect is still present whether you had time to notice COW or not.

We can test all kinds of things for links now that we’ve designed our experiment. Many studies have been conducted on the subject, and it has been discovered that many of the associations we make between words are based on sounds. So cow is linked to other words that begin with the letter K, such as college, tragedy, cat, koala, cat, koala, koala, koala and Kinnickinnic Moreover, milk is associated with M words as well as “mih-” terms such as Mississippi, mitten and million .

Where do these ties originate from, though? One intriguing clue is that children and adults link their words differently. Adults, for example, do not make connections between rhyming terms like as a cat, a hat, a bat, a mat, and a vat and so forth. Children, on the other hand: In a picture-naming experiment, two psycholinguists evaluated youngsters aged 5 to 11 years old and compared their replies to those of adults. Adults reacted the same way to rhyme-related terms such as “cat, mat” as they did to unrelated phrases such as “cat, spatula,” but children reacted to “cat, mat” the same way they did to “cat, cow”—as a linked pair.

Children have linked words based on rhymes by the age of five, but as they grow older, they lose these ties. But, at what age do youngsters begin to link words? Is there a pattern to which words they link together first? We’re still putting the pieces together, but here’s what we know so far.

For one reason, preliminary data suggests that youngsters associate sounds they acquire earlier, such as B and M (think “baba” and “mama”), with sounds they learn later, such as S and R. I collaborated with a team of researchers who were conducting a paired-words study with preschoolers rather than elementary school students. We offered the kids pairings of words with early-learned sounds vs later-learned sounds, and discovered that children responded similarly to different-sounding pairs (“dog, cake”) and late, similar-sounding pairs (“sock, sun”), but were slower to early, similar-sounding pairs (“car, cake”). It’s a little strange—based on the results from older children, we’d expect them to be faster at similar pairs—but it does show that even toddlers notice when words start with the same sound.

In fact, we can travel even further back in time: it turns out that babies make associations between words even before they pronounce them. Using photographs, some infant-research psycholinguists conducted an experiment with 18-month-olds: They’d start by showing a picture of a d og. Then they’d show two photographs side by side, one on top of the other. d aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa b oat. The baby would hear one of the phrases, such as “door” or “boat,” and the researchers would assess how well the child understood the image. And, just like adults and older children, newborns were better at recognizing photos when they’d already seen another picture with the same first sound. This is fairly amazing: the baby has worked out that connecting words with the same beginning sound is a useful approach for using language after only 18 months of life—a strategy they’ll be applying 20 years later as an adult.

At an age when they’re still finding out if they can chew their toes, small children and babies are doing their best to tackle the mammoth task of learning a language. It’s a remarkable achievement to discover one of the most extensively utilized language shortcuts in less than two years.

So the next time you’re stumped by a trick question, use the chance to educate your conversation partner on why providing the incorrect answer is a sign of a neurotypical, well-functioning brain. Then inquire as to what cows consume.

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