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Subtleties in the language people use may reveal physiological stress.

人们使用语言时的微妙(差异)能够揭示生理压力。



Psychologists found that tracking certain words used by volunteers in randomly collected audio clips reflected stress-related changes in their gene expression. The speech patterns predicted those physiological changes more accurately than speakers’ own ratings of their stress levels.

心理学家发现,追踪那些随机选择视频片段中志愿者所使用的特定词汇,能反映出他们基因表达中和压力有关的变化。讲话模式比讲话者自己划分的压力级别能更准确地预知生理变化。

The research, which is published on November 6 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that changes in language may track the biological effects of stress better than how we consciously feel. It’s a new approach to studying stress, says David Creswell, a psychologist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and one that “holds tremendous promise” for understanding how psychological adversity affects physical health.

这项11月6日发布于《美国国家科学院学报》的研究暗示出:用语中的变化能比我们有意识的感觉更好地追踪压力带来的生物效应。“这是一条研究压力的新路”,卡耐基梅隆大学(宾州匹兹堡)的心理学家David Creswell如是说,这条新路在理解心理逆境如何影响机体健康上,“蕴含着极大的前景”。

Adverse life circumstances—such as poverty, trauma or social isolation—can have devastating effects on health, increasing the risk of a variety of chronic disorders ranging from heart disease to dementia. Researchers trying to pin down the biological mechanisms involved have found that people who experience these circumstances also undergo broad changes in gene expression in the cells of their immune system. Genes involved in inflammation become more active, for example, and antiviral genes are turned down.

人生的种种逆境,比如贫困、创伤、社交孤立,都能对健康产生毁灭性的影响,它们会增加从心脏病到痴呆的各种慢性病的风险。那些尝试着推定其中牵涉生物机制的研究者发现,那些经受着这些逆境的人们,他们免疫系统细胞的基因表达也经历了显著的变化。涉及到炎症的那些基因会变得更加活跃,举例来说,抗病毒基因被关闭了。

These biological changes seem to represent the body’s evolutionary response to threat, says Steve Cole, a genomicist at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a co-author on the paper. But he was always troubled by a “nagging observation”: they don’t tally well with how stressed people say they are.

“这些生物上的变化看上去是代表着机体演化出的对威胁的反应”,来自加州大学(洛杉矶)的遗传学家 Steve Cole连同论文中的联合作者如是说。但他常被一种“无法释怀的观察结果”困扰:这些观察结果与受压中人们的那些自述无法吻合。

Cole wondered whether stress biology is triggered instead by an automatic assessment of threat in the brain, which doesn’t necessarily reach conscious awareness. To find out, he and his colleagues teamed up with Matthias Mehl, a psychologist at the University of Arizona, Tucson, who studies how stress affects language.

Cole想知道压力带来的生物学现象是不是被脑中对威胁的自动评估进程触发的,而不一定会抵达意识能觉察到的层面。为了弄个水落石出,他和他的同事与亚利桑那大学(图桑)的心理学家Matthias Mehl开展了团队合作,后者研究的是压力如何影响语言。

The researchers asked 143 adult volunteers in the United States to wear audio recorders, which switched on every few minutes for two days, capturing a total of 22,627 clips. Mehl transcribed any words spoken by the volunteers, and analysed the language they used.

研究者要求来自美国的143名成人志愿者随身佩戴录音机,并在两天内每隔几分钟打开一次,总共捕捉到了22627条片段。Mehl(梅尔)转录了志愿者们说出的所有话语,并分析了他们的用词。

He was particularly interested in what psychologists call 'function' words, such as pronouns and adjectives. “By themselves they don’t have any meaning, but they clarify what’s going on,” says Mehl. Whereas we consciously choose 'meaning' words such as nouns and verbs, researchers believe that function words “are produced more automatically and they betray a bit more about what’s going on with the speaker”. Mehl and others have found, for example, that people’s use of function words changes when they face a personal crisis or following terrorist attacks.

他对心理学家口中的“功能性”词汇尤感兴趣,譬如说代词和形容词。Mehl说,“它们本身没有任何意义,但它们(被使用的方式)呈示出当时(说话者的精神状态)发生了什么”。 与我们有意识地选择“有意义的”词汇诸如名词和动词相反,研究者们相信功能性词汇“被造出来的时候更浑然而不经思索,它们泄露出了更多讲话者本身正在发生的状况”。Mehl和其他研究者已经发现,当人们面对个人危机或恐怖袭击时,他们使用的功能型词汇发生了变化。 

The researchers compared the language used by each volunteer with the expression in their white blood cells of 50 genes known to be influenced by adversity. They found that the volunteers’ use of function words predicted gene expression significantly better than self-reports of stress, depression and anxiety.

研究者以每个志愿者使用的语言,对比他们白细胞总带着的50个已知的被逆境影响的基因表达。他们发现志愿者对功能性词汇的使用,在预知基因表达时效果远远好过他们自述的压力、沮丧和焦虑。

People with more stressed-out gene-expression signatures tended to talk less overall. But they used more adverbs such as 'really' or 'incredibly'. These words may act as “emotional intensifiers”, says Mehl, signifying a higher state of arousal. They were also less likely to use third-person plural pronouns, such as 'they' or 'their'. That makes sense too, he says, because when people are under threat, they may focus less on others and the outside world.

拥有更多紧张焦虑基因表达特征的人们,总的来说倾向于少说话。但他们会使用更多的副词,比如“真正地”或“难以置信地”。Mehl说,这些词充当的是“情感加强剂”的作用,意味着一种更高程度的奋发状态。他们也会更少地使用第三人称的复数代词,比如“他们”或“他们的”“而这也能说得通”,他说,“因为当人们处在被威胁的状态时,他们会将注意力更少地聚焦于旁人和外部世界。”

He cautions that more research is needed to test these specific effects, and to assess whether stress influences language, or vice versa. But he suggests that the approach could ultimately help to identify people at risk of developing stress-related disease. Doctors may need to “listen beyond the content” of what patients tell them, he says, “to the way it is expressed”.

他告诫说,需要更多的研究来检测这些特定的效果,然后才能判断压力是否能影响语言,反之亦然。不过他暗示,这种方法最终能够帮助鉴定出那些处于压力相关疾病病情恶化风险中的人们。 医师们可能需要“听听弦外之音”,在病人告诉他们的内容之外,“听听表达这些内容时的方式”。

Cole suggests that assessing language use could help to test whether interventions aimed at reducing stress really work. Perhaps “you could even ditch self-report stress measures”, he says, and instead listen passively to how trial participants speak.

Cole暗示到,对语言运用的评估能够帮助测试旨在降压的介入能否成功。也许“你甚至可以弃用自述报告这种压力测量法”,他说,而是放低自己去聆听实验参与者
是如何说话的。

“Language reflects how people connect with their world, but who would ever have thought that gene expression would be related to language?” says James Pennebaker, a psychologist at the University of Texas, Austin, who has pioneered research on language and social processes (and has previously worked with Mehl). “It’s such an exciting new way of thinking,” he adds. “I was blown away.”

“语言(的运用)反映出人们是如何与他们各自的世界联通的,但谁又会想到基因表达竟然会和语言(的运用)相关联?”,德克萨斯大学(奥斯汀)的心理学家James Pennebaker如是说,他是语言和社会进程研究的先驱者(先前和Mehl同事过),他补充到,“这真是令人激动的一种新的思维方式,我TM都要五体投地了。”