An Important Lexical Retrieval Variable

I just read about two studies that found that humanities lecturers use more filled pauses–time saying ‘uh,’ ‘um,’ etc–than science lecturers, and that it’s probably because the humanities have more synonyms to draw upon. In science, it is very useful in conversation to have very precise, technical definitions of each word that everyone agrees upon. Empathy, for example, cannot mean or connote compassion in psychological discourse, and if it does, you run into problems.

Maybe that’s why the people in my social cognition lab (can) talk so fast. They all understand precisely each word, so ideas can come and go very rapidly. Still too rapidly for me to understand, sometimes.

[First published on Nathen’s Miraculous Escape, May 7, 2009.]