Words Can Change Your Brain
Sticks and stones may break your bones,
but words can change your brain.
According to Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman, words can literally change your brain.
In their book, Words Can Change Your Brain, they write: “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.
Conversely, hostile language can disrupt specific genes that play a key part in the production of neurochemicals that protect us from stress. Humans are hardwired to worry — part of our primal brains protecting us from threats to our survival — so our thoughts naturally go here first.
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,” write Newberg and Waldman.
According to the authors, using the right words can transform our reality:
By holding a positive and optimistic [word] in your mind, you stimulate frontal lobe activity. This area includes specific language centers that connect directly to the motor cortex responsible for moving you into action.
And as our research has shown, the longer you concentrate on positive words, the more you begin to affect other areas of the brain. Functions in the parietal lobe start to change, which changes your perception of yourself and the people you interact with.
A positive view of yourself will bias you toward seeing the good in others, whereas a negative self-image will include you toward suspicion and doubt. Over time the structure of your thalamus will also change in response to your conscious words, thoughts, and feelings, and we believe that the thalamic changes affect the way in which you perceive reality.
The authors’ book doesn’t just dive deep into the research, however. They also offer practical tips and tricks that you can put to use in everyday life. Things like a little secret that will change “your facial expression in ways that will inspire trust in others. You can change the rate of your speech to influence how the other person feels, and you’ll be able to use your body language to convey more meaning than words can ever capture.”
They suggest that by just practicing these strategies for a few minutes a day can result in your thinking more clearly, enhancing your creativity, and being able to converse with others more authentically.
Sounds like interesting stuff, and the fact that it’s all based on scientific research, including brain-scan studies, brings hope that we can all change for the better — if we just put our minds to it!
This article has been updated from the original version, which was originally published here on January 18, 2016.
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Borchard, T. (2019). Words Can Change Your Brain. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 3, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/words-can-change-your-brain-2/