Thursday, September 8, 2011

Speaking English makes you more likely to blame others

I was reading an article the other day about Anglophones and found out something interesting. If my friend Liz is at my house and stands on my coffee table and it breaks (I have no idea what she's doing up there- she'd never actually stand on a coffee table), if someone asks me what happened, I, as an English speaker am likely to say, "Liz broke the table," even if it was an accident. 

Scientists have done studies that determine that speakers in Spain or Japan would probably simply say, "It broke." At Stanford University, scientists showed videos of two people breaking eggs, spilling drinks and popping balloons - both intentionally and accidentally. The viewers, who were speakers of English, Japanese and Spanish, were later given a memory test in which they were asked to describe the events. Surprisingly, the English speakers remembered equally the accidental and intentional events. However, while the Japanese and Spanish speakers remembered the intentional events as well as the English speakers, they had a significantly more difficult time remembering the accidents! Why? Because the English speakers assigned blame to the person who popped the balloon, spilled the drink or broke the egg, no matter if it was an accident or not. This helped them to encode the incident in their mind. So is this a cultural difference or a linguistic difference? One more study points more toward the linguistic...

Remember the Super Bowl halftime show when Janet Jackson had her 'wardrobe malfunction', showing viewers more of her than she intended? Two groups of English speakers were shown the video of the incident and then given a written report of the incident and told to come up with a suitable punishment. The reports were worded slightly differently: in one, the end said 'the costume ripped' and in the other 'Justin Timberlake ripped the costume'. Even though the entire group had watched the same video, those who got the report that said 'the costume ripped' determined a punishment only half of that of the other group (who had a person to blame)!

Moral of the story? For English speakers, there has to be a scapegoat - someone to blame.

No comments:

Post a Comment