(Important note: I uploaded this article at Academia.edu , about a year ago. I thought I might as well upload it here.)
Language is the tool we have used to communicate, express our innermost thoughts and project our idea of what the world is since the beginning of civilization. Words, the manifestation of our mind’s never-ending thought process, are believed to possess incredible power. This belief is projected in the stories about magic, in religion, and in propaganda. Psychological studies, such as Andrew Newberg’s and Mark Waldman’s ‘Words can change your brain’, suggest that a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.
‘Positive words, such as “peace” and “love,” can alter the expression of genes, strengthening areas in our frontal lobes and promoting the brain’s cognitive functioning. They propel the motivational centers of the brain into action, according to the authors, and build resiliency.
However, a single negative word can increase the activity in our amygdala (the fear center of the brain). This releases dozens of stress-producing hormones and neurotransmitters, which in turn interrupts our brains’ functioning. (This is especially with regard to logic, reason, and language.) “Angry words send alarm messages through the brain, and they partially shut down the logic-and-reasoning centers located in the frontal lobes.’
Notice the words ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ being used in the above abstract. When used in Physics, these words indicate the electric charge of two subatomic particles, the proton and the electron, respectively. If used, mutatis mutandis, in Linguistics, these terms can help us categorize words such as ‘happiness’ or ‘hatred’.
Drawing the line between positive and negative words is easy. The real problem lies with the words that we could call ‘neutrons’; the words that emit no emotion. The majority of words undoubtedly belong to this category. But what about the words that are, by definition, part of the ‘neutron’ category, but are used out of context? How does the ‘charging’ of these words affect our conscience and our thoughts?
Words possess power. We must accept this as a fact, in order to answer these questions. ‘Charging’ certain words with a positive or negative energy, we can alter the course of thought of our society. One can only look back in history, and will understand this is true; Socrates’ philosophical discussions, Jesus’ religious teachings, Hitler’s hate speeches, are just a few examples of how the manipulation of the words’ energy can lead to either great or terrible results.
Providing neutral words with the right energy is not an easy task. One must be well aware of their historical, social and cultural surroundings, among other factors. The word ‘nation’ for instance, one of the hardest words to fully define, has been charged with both positive and negative energy, for different reasons and in different times. Similarly, the word ‘religion’ has been used by different groups to express opposing opinions. However, the use of these words in the wrong time and place can only lead to more debates (note that this is not necessarily a bad thing) and more confusion in our minds.
In order to avoid the incoherence in our thoughts, caused by the misinterpretation –whether intentional or not- of words, three things are to be considered:
- We must provide the world with more solid, logical and well-thought definitions.
- We must be objective and not allow sentiment to cloud our view.
- We must always consider the possibility of being wrong.
The reason we must never put words out of place is very simple: language should be used in order to convey a clear message. It is meant to be understood. This obviously does not necessarily apply to any form of art, because art is supposed to play mind games, so that we may broaden our view and our thought spectrum.
With these thoughts, I conclude this article. What do you think? Please, let me know! Until next time!
 Andrew Newberg, Mark Waldman “Words can change your brain”.