Research shows a verbal insult is like a ‘mini slap in the face’ in study that looks at how words affect us | UK News

A verbal insult will “get at you” and is like a “mini slap in the face”, according to new research.

Scientists looked at the short-term impact of repeated insults as part of a study analysing links between emotion and language.

The paper, published in Frontiers In Communication, found the verbal insults could have an impact no matter who it was about – and showed “increased sensitivity of our brains” to negative words.

Corresponding author Dr Marijn Struiksma, of Utrecht University, said: “The exact way in which words can deliver their offensive, emotionally negative payload at the moment these words are being read or heard is not yet well understood.

“Because insults pose a threat against our reputation and against our ‘self’, they provide a unique opportunity to research the interface between language and emotion.

“Understanding what an insulting expression does to people as it unfolds, and why, is of considerable importance to psycholinguists interested in how language moves people, but also to others who wish to understand the details of social behaviour.”

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Some 79 female participants took part in the study, with electroencephalography and skin conductance electrodes being applied to monitor a series of repeated statements.

Dr Struiksma added: “Our study shows that in a psycholinguistic laboratory experiment without real interaction between speakers, insults deliver lexical ‘mini slaps in the face’, such that the strongly negative evaluative words involved that a participant reads, automatically grab attention during lexical retrieval, regardless of how often that retrieval occurs.”

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