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Oct 01, 2013 09:44 AM EDT

Brains Process Big Words Quicker Than Small Words, Glasgow Study

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Brain can rapidly understand words that represent big things like 'whale' than small words like 'plum,' according to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Glasglow.

The scientists stated that bigger things catch people's attention easily and brains process them faster - even written words.

University experts earlier claimed that big concrete words - ocean, dinosaur and cathedral - were read faster than small ones such as apple, parasite and cigarette.

Now they have established a relationship between size and understanding of words. They discovered that abstract words which refer to big things - greed, genius, paradise - are processed faster than small concepts like haste, polite and intimate.

"It seems that size matters, even when it's abstract and you can't see it," Dr Sara Sereno, a Reader in the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, who led the study, said in an official statement.

The study, published in the online journal PLoS ONE, also involved researchers from Kent, Manchester and Oregon.

The researchers arrived at the conclusion after presenting nearly 500 words to 60 participants. The list included a mix of words referring to objects and concepts both big and small, nonsense and artificial words. The participants were asked to press a button when they identified a real word.

It was found that words referring to larger objects or concepts were processed around 20 milliseconds quicker than words belonging to smaller objects or concepts.

"This might seem like a very short period of time, but it's significant and the effect size is typical for this task," said Sereno. "It turned out that our big concrete and abstract words, like 'shark' and 'panic', tended to be more emotionally arousing than our small concrete and abstract words, like 'acorn' and 'tight'. Our analysis showed that these emotional links played a greater role in the identification of abstract compared to concrete words," Lead author Dr Bo Yao said.

"Even though abstract words don't refer to physical objects in the real world, we found that it's actually quite easy to think of certain concepts in terms of their size," said co-author Professor Paddy O'Donnell in an official statement. "Everyone thinks that 'devotion' is something big and that 'mischief' is something small."

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