Does hearing bad grammar make you physically cringe? It turns out out that it may well induce a medical phenomenon in the human body.
Scientists in the United Kingdom seem to have pinpointed a physiological response from hearing someone mangle the English grammar in a new study published in the Journal of Neurolinguistics.
Researchers at the University of Birmingham took 41 English-speaking adults and subjected them to 40 samples of speech in English, half of which were riddled with grammatical errors. The participants were hooked up to a monitor that tracked their heart rate variability (HRV), which is the space between heartbeats.
When someone is relaxed, their HRV tends to be variable, while a stressed person has an HRV that comes at regular, steady intervals.
The scientists found a "statistically significant reduction... in response to stimuli that contain errors."
Basically, the subjects appeared to become physically stressed when they heard grammar violations — giving them the ick not just interpersonally, but physiologically as well.
"The results of this study bring into focus a new dimension of the intricate relationship between physiology and cognition," said University of Birmingham professor and lead study author Dagmar Divjak statement. The results, he said, suggest that "cognitive effort reverberates through the physiological system in more ways than previously thought."
What's interesting about the study, the researchers said, is that the same type of experiment could be used to assess "implicit linguistic knowledge," perhaps gauging the cognitive ability of people who can't verbalize for a reasons such as disability.
"This study provides us with a new method for tapping into aspects of cognition that are not directly observable," said Divjak.
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