Maybe you have noticed that many positively charged words contain the “i” sound (e.g., like, high), while many negatively charged words have an “o” sound (e.g. lonely, low).
Some scientists noticed this is true in many languages, and wondered why. Their research shows that the way our mouth forms vowels as we speak influences our feelings, and our feelings influence our word choices.
So, the link between what we say and how we feel is not just psychological, it is physical as well. Findings such as this are not only interesting, they remind us how integrated our mind-body experience is.
Mouth Muscles and Mood
We each have a major mouth muscle called the zygomaticus. We use this muscle when laughing or smiling. Or, if you hold a pen between your teeth, so each end of the pen is pointing toward an ear, you are exercising your zygomaticus.
The zygomaticus muscle is also used to pronounce the vowel sound “i”.
We have another major mouth muscle called the orbicularis. We use this muscle when we purse our lips. Or, if you hold one end of a pen between your lips, as you would a cigar, you are exercising your orbicularis.
The orbicularis is also used to pronounce the vowel sound “o”.
In the research:
- Study subjects influenced to be in a positive mood were asked to make up ten words and say them aloud. They made up words containing significantly more “i” sounds than “o” sounds. Participants influenced to be in a negative mood were asked to make up ten words and say them aloud. They made up words containing many more “o” sounds than “i” sounds.
- Study participants exercising their zygomaticus (“i”) muscle by holding a pen between their teeth found a series of cartoons to be more humorous than the participants holding a pen between their lips, stimulating the orbicularis (“o”) muscle.
Words and Feelings
The investigators concluded that as people learn language, forming “i” sounds becomes associated with good feelings that prompt us to use more “i” sounding words. The “o” sound becomes associated with negative feelings and words.
This phenomenon is true in many languages because it is owed to the way humans use their facial muscles as they articulate words. The link between forming vowels, and our emotion and word choices is cross-cultural.
Everyday, and everywhere, the words we use reflect our feelings, and our feelings influence the words we choose. Our individual physical and emotional expressions are intimately connected, and this mind-body unity is universal.
You can also read this article at PsyWeb.
Source: Science Daily