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The Linguistic Device That Creates Resonance Between People and Ideas

Susan Gelman and her co-authors Ariana Orvell of Bryn Mawr College and Ethan Kross, U-M professor of psychology, proceeded to examine how frequently “you” appeared in highlighted passages pulled from 56 Oprah’s Book Club selections. They found that highlighted passages were 8.5 times more likely to contain generic “you” than passages that were not highlighted, leading them to identify generic-you as a linguistic device that enhances resonance. “This study is a really nice example of how sensitive people are to even a subtle variation in perspective and language,” Gelman said. “I’m sure people who are reading these novels were not thinking about the linguistic device the authors were using, and the authors themselves may not have been aware, but this study shows this linguistic device has a measurable effect, and that it’s part of the fabric of language and thought that people are sensitive to.”

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