How does negation affect our understanding of phrases and sentences?! How does negation affect our understanding of phrases and sentences?!

How does negation affect our understanding of phrases and sentences?!

How does negation affect our understanding of phrases and sentences?!
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A team of scientists has identified how our brains process negative statements, which has been shown to dilute the meaning rather than reverse it.

“We now have a stronger sense of how negation affects our minds as we try to understand different statements,” explained Ariana Zonazi, a researcher in the Department of Psychology at New York University. “By identifying that negation acts as a moderator of adjectives (bad or good, sad or happy, cold or hot), "We understand better how the brain works to interpret subtle changes in meaning."

The study revealed that negation is often used deliberately to hide the true meaning of phrases in a range of communications, from advertisements to legal files.

Linguistic models in artificial intelligence tools also have difficulty interpreting passages that contain negation.

Zanazi and her colleagues conducted a series of experiments to measure how participants interpreted phrases, as well as monitoring brain activity during these tasks in order to precisely measure the relevant neural function.

Participants read (on a computer screen) adjective phrases with and without negation (e.g., “really not good” and “really really good”), and rated their meaning on a scale of 1 to 10 using the mouse cursor.

The scientists found that participants took longer to interpret phrases with negation, compared to other phrases, suggesting that negation slows down our processing of meaning.

In addition, depending on how participants moved their cursors, negative statements were first interpreted as positive (e.g., “not hot” was initially interpreted as closer to “hot” rather than “cold”), but were later converted to a diluted meaning, indicating that the phrase "not hot" is not interpreted as "hot" or "cold", but rather as something between "hot" and "cold".

"This study highlights the complexity that goes into understanding language, and shows that this cognitive process goes beyond the sum of processing the meanings of individual words."

The study was published in the journal PLOS Biology.

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