Livin' on the MDedge

Misinterpretation is a science, not an art


It isn’t autocorrect’s fault this time, we swear

We’ve come a long way with communication technology. Back in the day, when Gondor needed to call for aid, they had to pull off the greatest signal fire montage of all time. Now we can send each other texts back and forth in an instant. (“Hey Theoden, send army, need help pls” doesn’t quite have the same gravitas though.) The question is, how do our brains keep up with such rapidly advancing technology?

old man with a beard on a sofa, yelling at his cell phone Deagreez/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Er, they don’t. Not really. Instead, our brains create shortcuts called “good-enough language processing,” which is exactly what it sounds like.

Psychologists and psycholinguists have been studying misinterpretations such as good-enough language processing since the 1970s. Recently, however, psycholinguists from the Centre for Language and Brain at Higher School of Economics in Moscow have found that, when it comes to reading comprehension over text, older adults are using their knowledge of the world over how it’s grammatically formed in the sentence.

In the study, 349 people were asked to read and interpret four sentences, the third of which (translated from Russian) was: “Misha met the firefighter’s dentist, who had put out a fire in the warehouse.” When asked who put the fire out, 79% of older adults (aged 55 years and older), utilizing good-enough language processing, said the firefighter put out the fire. You probably glossed over that sentence and assumed the same thing. But this time, the dentist was the real hero.

That said, adolescents (aged 13-17) and young adults (aged 20-30) weren’t much better, and got that particular sentence wrong 63%-68% of the time. According to the researchers, good-enough language processing forms in adolescence and intensifies throughout adulthood.

Moral of the story? We should utilize signal fires more often. Less room for misinterpretation. When the beacons of Minas Tirith were lit, Rohan answered.

Singing … your … lungs … out

There’s nothing quite like a karaoke bar to unleash your inner rock star. Hey, why not just go for it, everyone is just as bad at singing as you. That’s part of the fun.

Teenagers singing Karaoke and dancing lisegagne/E+/Getty Images

A 25-year-old man named Wang Zhe may have taken the karaoke concept a bit too far, however. While out with friends at a birthday party, Mr. Zhe let loose on a song with a particularly large number of high notes. He tried his best, gamely attacking the song until he felt a pain in his chest. He didn’t think much of it, although he did cut his performance short, but then he awoke the next morning unable to breathe properly.

After a trip to the hospital, he explained the sequence of events to the doctors, and an x-ray found that the culprit of the pain and difficulty breathing was a life-threatening condition in which air bubbles are created between the chest and lung. All the force Mr. Zhe had used trying to sing made air sacks in his lung burst, causing the air bubbles and his lung to be compressed to 15% of what it should be. Mr. Zhe needed surgery to remove the air bubbles, but fortunately turned out just fine.

So, if you’re ever at a karaoke bar, looking for a song to sing, maybe avoid the ones with super high notes and stick with something a little lower. We’re picturing something like Paul Robeson singing Ol’ Man River. That oughta do the trick.


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