Brain Scans and Magic
A German study, found in the scientific journal Brain and Language, took a group of volunteers to participate in their emotional response experiment. The researchers wanted to measure the emotional response when participants read varying sentences in the book series Harry Potter written by J.K. Rowling. Hypothesizing there would be a range of emotions from varying parts of the novel, the researchers, when writing their explanation and findings, used jargon and the Official Style to convince their audience of their perceived knowledge. Most likely directed at fellow psychologists or those studying child development, Brain and Language hides the truth of scientific findings behind a curtain of the Official Style, desperately trying to authenticate their worth to others in the psychology community.
From the initial examination of the journal, the slogan or tagline for Brain and Language reads “the neurobiological mechanisms underlying human language.” S.L. Small, the editor in chief for the journal clearly wants to convey all of his findings and other scientific findings in a respectable and official manner. This is one of Small’s spheres of human activity: the scientific community. Without the Official Style, any scientific study or journal submitted to Brain and Language would not be reputable or have valor in the eyes of other researchers. For instance, when writing the description for Brain and Language, Dr. Small could have said ‘the mental processes that influence the way we speak.’ But compared to what Dr. Small published in on the first page every month, the latter sounds weaker and not as powerful. Without that power and respect the language invokes, every study or finding in the monthly journal would be dismissed as folly and perhaps, even, children trying to play in an adult world.
Yet, a scientific journal’s worth should not be measure by their slogan alone. After all, there are a multitude of researchers contributing, editing, and responding to each other’s work. One specific study that drew in a lot of attention from the psychology community was a study examining emotional responses to different excerpts in Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling. An example of text taken from the fort-plus page document further shows the methods the researchers used to expedite their ideas more influentially to their scientific peers:
“The elementary level of general emotion content of lexical units or concepts – represented by the means of lexical valence and arousal values of single words, appearing in a given text. Note that this operationalization assumes that respective values for single elements (words or concepts) would condense into a homogenous affective impression. An illustrative example from our stimulus material is the sentence “’You disgusting little Squib, you filthy little blood traitor!’ roared Gaunt, losing control” (Rowling, 2005), whose lexical units are consistently negative in valence and high in arousal (“disgusting”, “filthy”, “blood”, “traitor”, “roar”, and “losing”).”
Only a small passage taken from a much larger document, the researchers use jargon, euphemism, slow sentence openings, and nominalizations to exemplify their point. Also, retrieved from the official Readability Calculator, this small passage operates at an average grade level of 25.6. In order to fully and truly comprehend the source material, one must make their way to the 25th grade. But, an interesting observation comes in the form of complexity in their word choice, only to then simplify their complex language. The researchers say “Note that this operationalization assumes that respective values for single elements (words or concepts) would condense into a homogenous affective impression.” When discussing the “elements” of the piece, they use jargon to cover up the “words or concepts” because those types of words are simply too basic and weak to use in such a prestigious journal. Yet, by uttering the word “elements”, they realize they may have over extended their limits, thus the need to simplify their jargon. Of course, this type of language followed by an explanation happens quite frequently throughout the entire study. In addition, the most interesting part of their science-speak is that Brain and Language is in fact a language magazine, studying the effects of words, speech and linguistics on the human mind or vice versa.
A stranger, more subtle official stylistic method the researchers use is by shrouding the discussion of emotion in scientific terms. When examining the passage involving name-calling the researchers say the passage was “negative in valence and high in arousal.” An unquantifiable topic such as emotion transformed into a measurable, debatable process with the right keystrokes on a computer. The Official Style used here not only changes the study of a topic but presents such information as debatable, if not challengeable by others in the psychological study discourse. Although the researchers who designed the study, implemented their methods and filed their report might have a different outlook on their study. Perhaps, the researchers believe these stylistic choices are part of a universal language that could be understood and interpreted by the international community.
Arguing against the Official Style comes naturally to most people who study such topics and methodologies. But to argue for a way of writing that promotes power and influence might be a tougher challenge. After all, the Official Style confuses those who are simply not part of a said discourse, alienating them; distancing the knowledgeable from those who do not pursue the unknown. The Official Style slithers around, deceiving and tricking the general populous into a dreamless lullaby. But for the researchers who effortlessly devoted their time to proposing varied emotional responses to different excerpts from a children’s book series, the Official Style became an outlet for understanding and international cooperation. Brain and Language, an international journal that studies the connection between mental processes and human language, uses the Official Style to reach out the world, helping others understand the scientific findings of their peers. Although at first glance, describing words and emotion as “negative in valence” may seem purposefully confusing or jargonistic, to the international scientific community, these phrases, or utterances, may be a Godsend, as now they can fully appreciate the deeper meaning of the scientific study.