What happens in our brains when we say “no” to something?

What happens in our brains when we say “no” to something?

About the episode

We don’t yet fully understand how our brains deal with denials like: “It’s not hot” or “It’s not good.” Previous research suggests that these types of constructions are processed more slowly by the brain than positive sentence constructions. And it often causes processing problems.

In new experiments, participants had to read positive and negative sentences and then indicate how positive or negative those sentences were. They saw that evaluating negative word sets took longer and that the final evaluation varied more often.

From the movements of the arrow on the screen, they were able to see that participants often moved first toward a positive evaluation, and then toward a more negative evaluation.

When brain activity was also examined in other experiments, they saw something similar happen. Activity that was initially similar to positive evaluation, but later weakened.

What he says: Putting the word “not” in front of another word does not mean that we read it the other way around. We do not treat “not hot” as “cold,” but as “less than hot.” With ‘not good’ we first focus on ‘good’, before diluting it to ‘less than good’.

Thus, the word “no” is weakened, but not reversed. This is interesting and important information if you are interested in how we process language and communicate with each other.

Read more about the research here: Is your coffee “not hot” or “cold”? Observing how the brain processes negative adjectives

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