Bad Grammar Can Physically Stress People Out, Study Finds
Have you ever caught yourself wincing at a text message with poor grammar or an email riddled with typos? You’re not alone. Turns out, it’s not just annoyance. Apparently, bad grammar can stir up our emotions in a big way. Research even suggests that hearing bad grammar can kick-start our “fight-or-flight” response.
In a study titled “Heart Rate Variability and Language Knowledge” published in the Journal of Neurolinguistics, Professors Dagmar Divjak and Professor Petar Milin from the University of Birmingham found a link between bad grammar and changes in people’s heart rate variability (HRV).
HRV measures the time between heartbeats, which tends to vary when a person is relaxed but becomes more regular when stressed. The study discovered that encountering grammatical errors led to a significant reduction in HRV, indicating increased stress levels. Simply put, the more grammar mistakes people encounter, the more their heartbeats become regular, signifying higher stress.
Hearing Bad Grammar
The study involved 41 English-speaking adults wearing heart rate sensors on their fingers. They listened to 40 English speech samples, and half of them had grammar errors, like adding “a/an” where not needed or leaving out “the.”
Their findings revealed that when people heard incorrect grammar, their heart rate variability (HRV) decreased significantly. Essentially, the more mistakes they heard, the steadier their heartbeat became, indicating higher stress levels.
“The results of this study bring into focus a new dimension of the intricate relationship between physiology and cognition… Our findings show that [the ANS], too, responds to cognitive demands, and this suggests that cognitive effort reverberates through the physiological system in more ways than previously thought,” said Divjak.
The researchers think that HRV could be a sign of a person’s unspoken knowledge of a language that is the kind we naturally learn without conscious effort. If someone’s heart rate shows they get stressed by bad grammar, it could mean they have a good grasp of the language.
Take a look at the full study and more of their findings here.