Language acquisition is a labor of love, but it’s labor-intensive

Mother-baby synchrony shows the start of language acquisition [1]

Language acquisition depends on social contact

Children get their information about language from their caretakers and the adults around them. They tend to pick up on the most frequent nouns, verbs and adjectives first, and then extend their range. They attend to what is in the joint focus of attention for adult and child, to what is physically and conversationally present, and hence to the language directed to them as addressees.[2]

Infant attention… was significantly higher in response to the live person than to either inanimate source… During live exposure, tutors focus their visual gaze on pictures in the books or on the toys they talk about, and infants’ gaze tends to follow the speaker’s gaze… Infants in the live exposure sessions were visibly aroused before the sessions – they watched the door expectantly, and were excited by the tutor’s arrival, whereas infants in the non-social conditions did not.

Exposure to a new language in a live social interaction situation induces remarkable learning in 9-month-old infants, but no learning when the exact same language material is presented to infants by a disembodied source.[3]

Language acquisition is fostered by emotional expression

…infant-directed speech style reflects free vocal expression of emotion to infants, in comparison with more inhibited expression of emotion in typical adult-directed speech. …infant-directed speech is accompanied by exaggerated facial expressions of emotion…[4]

American infants exposed in the laboratory to Mandarin Chinese rapidly learned phonemes and words from the foreign language, but only if exposed to the new language by a live human being during naturalistic play. Infants exposed to the same auditory input at the same age and for the same duration via television or audiotape showed no learning…[5]

…infant-directed prosody itself is not special. What is special is the widespread expression of emotion to infants in comparison with the more inhibited expression of emotion in typical adult interactions.

…infants prefer to listen to infant-directed speech expressing positive (approval) affect over infant-directed speech expressing negative (prohibition) affect…[4]

Infants of nondepressed mothers readily learned that their mothers’ speech signaled a face, whereas infants of depressed mothers failed to learn that their mothers’ speech signaled the face. Infants of depressed mothers did, however, show strong learning in response to speech produced by an unfamiliar nondepressed mother.[6]

Language acquisition takes substantial labor and time

… a mother’s immediate social feedback results both in greater numbers and more mature, adultlike vocalizations from infants…

…infants vocally imitate adult vowel sounds by 5 months but not acoustically matched nonspeech sounds that are not perceived as human speech…

By 10 months… Children raised in Beijing listening to Mandarin babble by using tonelike pitches characteristic of Mandarin, which make them sound distinctly Chinese. Children being raised in Seattle listening to English do not babble by using such tones and sound distinctly American.[5]

Language acquisition labor changes, but the labor continues

Parents frequently check up on what their children mean. They often do this by reformulating with a side sequence or an embedded correction what they think their children said. Since the child’s utterance and the adult reformulation differ while the intended meanings are the same, children infer that adults are offering a correction. Analyses of longitudinal data from five children between 2;0 and 4;0… show that (a) adults reformulate their children’s erroneous utterances and do so significantly more often than they replay or repeat error-free utterances; (b) their rates of reformulation are similar across error-types (phonological, morphological, lexical, and syntactic) in both languages; (c) they reformulate significantly more often to younger children, who make more errors.[7]

At a conservative estimate, the average 5-year-old child will have learned more than 2,000 words… and will learn up to 3,000 more per year in the coming school years…[8]

  1. Melina, Remy. “” LiveScience, 23 Aug. 2011, Accessed 14 Oct. 2017.
  2. Clark, Eve V. “How language acquisition builds on cognitive development.” Trends in cognitive sciences 8.10 (2004): 472-478.
  3. Kuhl, Patricia K. “Is speech learning ‘gated’ by the social brain?” Developmental science 10.1 (2007): 110-120.
  4. Trainor, Laurel J., Caren M. Austin, and Renée N. Desjardins. “Is infant-directed speech prosody a result of the vocal expression of emotion?” Psychological science 11.3 (2000): 188-195.
  5. Meltzoff, Andrew N., et al. “Foundations for a new science of learning.” Science 325.5938 (2009): 284-288.
  6. Kaplan, Peter S., et al. “Infants of depressed mothers, although competent learners, fail to learn in response to their own mothers’ infant-directed speech.” Psychological Science 13.3 (2002): 268-271.
  7. Chouinard, Michelle M., and Eve V. Clark. “Adult reformulations of child errors as negative evidence.” Journal of child language 30.3 (2003): 637-669.
  8. Baddeley, Alan, Susan Gathercole, and Costanza Papagno. “The phonological loop as a language learning device.” Psychological review 105.1 (1998): 158-173.

Figurative language is processed faster, making the load lighter

Figurative language, and all language, is processed by embodied sensory-motor-emotion architectures

Figurative language, and all language, is processed by embodied sensory-motor-emotion architectures.[1]

Figurative language accesses strong networks

The problem of how the brain copes with the fragmentary representations of information is central to our understanding of brain function. It is not enough for the brain to analyze the world into its components parts: the brain must bind together those parts that make whole entities and events, both for recognition and recall. Consciousness must necessarily be based on the mechanisms that perform the binding. The hypothesis suggested here is that the binding occurs in multiple regions that are linked together through activation zones; that these regions communicate through feedback pathways to earlier stages of cortical processing where the parts are represented; and that the neural correlates of consciousness should be sought in the phase-locked signals that are used to communicate between these activation zones.[2]

…information is encoded in an all-or-none manner into cognitive units and the strength of these units increases with practice and decays with delay. The essential process to memory performance is the retrieval operation. It is proposed that the cognitive units form an interconnected network and that retrieval is performed by spreading activation throughout the network. Level of activation in the network determines rate and probability of recall.[3]

Figurative language conserves resources

Resources seem to be required only as attention, consciousness, decisions, and memory become involved; it is here that the well-known capacity limitations of the human system seem to be located rather than in the actual processing.[4]

…our minds tend to minimise processing effort by allocating attention and cognitive resources to selected inputs to cognitive processes which are potentially relevant at the time, and to process them in the most relevance-enhancing way.[5]

Figurative language reflects our senses and our movements

…a significant aspect of metaphoric language is motivated by embodied experience.[6]

According to theories of grounded cognition, cognitive processing is a product of our sensory and perceptual experiences… For example, during word recognition, sensory and perceptual systems may automatically become activated so that access to a concept’s meaning is influenced by our sensory knowledge of that concept—how it looks, feels, smells, sounds, and tastes.

Strongly perceptual concepts such as chair, music, or crimson can be represented quickly because most of their conceptual content is a relatively simple and discrete package of perceptual information, and hence is easy to simulate. Weakly perceptual concepts, on the other hand, tend to take longer to represent because they lack a neat package of perceptual information that can benefit from modality attention effects, and because much of their non-perceptual conceptual content involves pulling in other concepts as part of their broader situation (e.g., a tendency to do what? A republic of where?).[7]

How is prediction embodied? First, action control (and the motor system) is intimately concerned with prediction. That is, every action is accompanied by predicted changes in our proprioception and perception of the world so that the system can determine if the action was successfully completed. For example, in reaching for a glass of water, the system predicts how far the arm will have to reach, how wide the fingers need to open, and the feel of the cool, smooth glass.[8]

While the studies reported above support the grounded cognition view of word recognition, they are concerned with sensorimotor processing, only one aspect of sensory/perceptual experience. Other potential aspects of the sensory experience include sound, taste, and smell.

Figurative language also reflects our emotions

Similarly, reading a strong emotion word could produce perceptual simulations in the reader. For example, the emotion word love could lead to sensory simulations of sweating palms or racing heart that are experienced by a person actually in love.[9]

…emotional content… plays a crucial role in the processing and representation of abstract concepts: …abstract words are more emotionally valenced…, and this accounts for a… latency advantage…[10]

Figurative language often includes phrases we understand all at once

…lexical bundles… are stored and processed holistically. …regular multiword sequences leave memory traces in the brain.[11]

To hold all the aces,
to speak one’s mind,
to break the ice,
to lay the cards on the table,
to pull s.o.’s leg,
to give a hand, to stab s.o.’s back,
to miss the boat,
to pull strings,
to be on cloud nine,
to change one’s mind,
to lose one’s train of thought,
to hit the sack,
to kick the bucket,
to come out of the blue,
to break s.o.’s heart,
to spill the beans,
to have one’s feet on the ground,
to turn over a new leaf,
to be the icing on the cake,
to keep s.o. at arm’s length,
to be the last straw (that broke the camel’s back),
to cost an arm and a leg,
to go over the line,
to fill the bill,
to chew the fat,
to add fuel to the fire,
to get out of the frying pan into the fire,
to be in the same boat.[12]

Figurative language helps writers connect with readers

Consider the opening paragraphs of the following article from the Good Times, a Santa Cruz, California news and entertainment weekly (Nov 4–10, 2004, p.8). The article is titled “David vs. Goliath: Round One,” and describes the University of California, Santa Cruz’s controversial plan to double in physical size and increase enrollment by over 6000 students. Read through the following text and pick out those words and phrases that appear to express figurative meaning.

Hidden in the shadows of a massive election year, tucked under the sheets of a war gone awry and a highway scuffle, another battle has been brewing.

When UC Santa Cruz released the first draft on its 15-year Long Range Development Plan (LRDP) last week, it signaled an ever-fattening girth up on the hill. While some businesses clapped their hands with glee, many locals went scrambling for belt-cinchers.

The LRDP calls for 21,000 students by the year 2020 – an increase of 6,000 over today’s enrollment … . The new enrollment estimate may have startled some residents, but as a whole it merely represents a new stage in a decades-long battle that has been fought between the city and the City on the Hill. While some students are boon to local businesses and city coffers, many residents complain students are overrunning the town—clogging the streets, jacking up rents and turning neighborhoods and the downtown into their own party playground … .

“The bottom line is that the university can do what it wants to,” explains Emily Reilly, Santa Cruz City Council member and head of a committee developed to open up dialogue between “the campus and the city.”[13]

Life’s full of action; figurative language is full of action. We’re made for this.

Grasping an explanation, giving an example, posing a threat – language is full of actions and objects, and the ties between language and motion are under continuous investigation. Generally, embodiment links the individual sensorimotor experiences with higher cognitive functions such as language processing and comprehension.[14]

It is physically impossible to do metaphorical actions such as push the argument, chew on the idea, or spit out the truth. But these metaphorical phrases are sensible because people ordinarily conceive of many abstract concepts in embodied, metaphorical terms. Engaging in, or imagining doing, a body action, such as chewing, before reading a metaphorical phrase, such as chew on the idea, facilitates construal of the abstract concept as a physical entity, which speeds up comprehension of metaphorical action phrases.[15]

  1. Meteyard, Lotte, et al. “Coming of age: A review of embodiment and the neuroscience of semantics.” Cortex 48.7 (2012): 788-804.
  2. Damasio, Antonio R. “The Brain Binds Entities and Events by Multiregional Activation from Convergence Zones.” Neural Computation 1.1 (1989): 123-132.
  3. Anderson, John R. “A spreading activation theory of memory.” Journal of verbal learning and verbal behavior 22.3 (1983): 261-295.
  4. van Dijk, Teun A., and Walter Kintsch. “Toward a model of text comprehension and production.” Psychological review 85.5 (1978): 362-394.
  5. Moreno, Rosa E. Vega. Creativity and convention: The pragmatics of everyday figurative speech. John Benjamins Publishing, 2007, p. 229.
  6. Gibbs, Raymond W., Paula Lenz Costa Lima, and Edson Francozo. “Metaphor is grounded in embodied experience.” Journal of pragmatics 36.7 (2004): 1189-1210.
  7. Connell, Louise, and Dermot Lynott. “Strength of perceptual experience predicts word processing performance better than concreteness or imageability.” Cognition 125.3 (2012): 452-465.
  8. Glenberg, Arthur M. “Few believe the world is flat: How embodiment is changing the scientific understanding of cognition.” Canadian journal of experimental psychology= Revue canadienne de psychologie experimentale 69.2 (2015): 165-171.
  9. Juhasz, Barbara J., et al. “Tangible words are recognized faster: The grounding of meaning in sensory and perceptual systems.” The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 64.9 (2011): 1683-1691.
  10. Kousta, Stavroula-Thaleia, et al. “The representation of abstract words: why emotion matters.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 140.1 (2011): 14-34.
  11. Tremblay, Antoine, et al. “Processing advantages of lexical bundles: Evidence from self‐paced reading and sentence recall tasks.” Language Learning 61.2 (2011): 569-613.
  12. Moreno, Rosa E. Vega. Creativity and convention: The pragmatics of everyday figurative speech. John Benjamins Publishing, 2007, p. 144.
  13. Gibbs, Raymond W., and H. Colston. “Figurative language.” Handbook of psycholinguistics, 2nd ed., Elsevier, 2006, pp. 835-862.
  14. Jirak, Doreen, et al. “Grasping language–a short story on embodiment.” Consciousness and cognition 19.3 (2010): 711-720.
  15. Wilson, Nicole L., and Raymond W. Gibbs. “Real and imagined body movement primes metaphor comprehension.” Cognitive science 31.4 (2007): 721-731.

Cognitive therapy neural networks are increasingly well known

Cognitive therapy neural networks are changed bottom-up in antidepressant therapy and top-down in cognitive therapy

Hypothetical time course of the changes to amygdala and prefrontal function that are associated with antidepressant medication and cognitive therapy, illustrating major cognitive therapy neural networks

Hypothetical time course of the changes to amygdala and prefrontal function that are associated with antidepressant medication and cognitive therapy.

a | During acute depression, amygdala activity is increased (red) and prefrontal activity is decreased (blue) relative to activity in these regions in healthy individuals.

b | Cognitive therapy (CT) effectively exercises the prefrontal cortex (PFC), yielding increased inhibitory function of this region.

c | Antidepressant medication (ADM) targets amygdala function more directly, decreasing its activity.

d | After ADM or CT, amygdala function is decreased and prefrontal function is increased. The double-headed arrow between the amygdala and the PFC represents the bidirectional homeostatic influences that are believed to operate healthy individuals.[1]

Cognitive therapy neural networks –
– work together (along the black lines) to produce depressed symptoms
– feed back the results (along the gray line) to generate depressed symptoms in the future

Information processing in the cognitive model of depression illustrates cognitive therapy neural networks, showing feedback loops

Information processing in the cognitive model of depression.

  • Activation of depressive self-referential schemas by environmental triggers in a vulnerable individual is both the initial and penultimate element of the cognitive model.
  • The initial activation of a schema triggers biased attention, biased processing and biased memory for emotional internal or external stimuli.
  • As a result, incoming information is filtered so that schema-consistent elements in the environment are over-represented.
  • The resulting presence of depressive symptoms then reinforces the self-referential schema (shown by a grey arrow), which further strengthens the individual’s belief in its depressive elements.
  • This sequence triggers the onset and then maintenance of depressive symptoms.[2]

Untreated cognitive therapy neural networks take negative schema information and fan it out, and add in overgeneral negative information

Cognitive functioning in a healthy individual vs. in a depressed individual illustrates functionality in major cognitive therapy neural networks

Cognitive functioning in a healthy (a) or depressed (b) individual.

  • In a depressed individual, a negative self-schema and an over-general mode of processing concur to automatically prime and activate information that is congruent with the negative self-schema, via a cognitive interlock (resulting in rumination), biased memory and attention.
  • In a healthy individual, a concrete mode of processing counteracts these automatic activations.

Cognitive therapy neural networks information flow (in the diagrams above) maps directly to neural regions (in the pictures below)

Brain networks involved in various cognitive functions of cognitive therapy neural networks

Brain networks involved in
(a) self-referential processes and rumination,
(b) cognitive interlock and mood congruent processing,
(c) episodic buffer,
(d) attention bias,
(e) memory bias,
(f) overgeneral processing.

dmPC: dorsomedial prefrontal cortex,
vmPFC: ventromedial prefrontal cortex,
mPFC: medial prefrontal cortex,
iPFC: inferior prefrontal cortex,
mOFC: medial orbitofrontal cortex,
aOFC: anterior orbitofrontal cortex,
dlPFC: dorsolateral prefrontal cortex,
aITC: anterior inferotemporal cortex,
STG: superior temporal gyrus,
AnG: angular gyrus,
Ins: insula,
ACC: anterior cingulate cortex,
PCC: posterior cingulate cortex,
PCun: precuneus,
Rsp: retrosplenial cortex,
dmTh: dorsomedial thalamus,
HPC: hippocampus,
Amy: amygdala,
Hab: habenula,
Acc: nucleus accumbens,
Cd: caudate,
Pu: putamen,
Re: nucleus reuniens,
DG dentate gyrus of the hippocampus.[3]

  1. DeRubeis, Robert J., Greg J. Siegle, and Steven D. Hollon. “Cognitive therapy versus medication for depression: treatment outcomes and neural mechanisms.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9.10 (2008): 788-796.
  2. Disner, Seth G., et al. “Neural mechanisms of the cognitive model of depression.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 12.8 (2011): 467-477.
  3. Belzung, Catherine, Paul Willner, and Pierre Philippot. “Depression: from psychopathology to pathophysiology.” Current opinion in neurobiology 30 (2015): 24-30.

Anger in Psalms is raw, and reminds us to forgive

An angry face, illustrating anger in Psalms[1]

Anger in Psalms is undisguised and natural

In some of the Psalms the spirit of hatred which strikes us in the face is like the heat from a furnace mouth.

Examples… can be found all over the Psalter, but perhaps the worst is in Psalm 109. The poet prays that an ungodly man may rule over his enemy… (v. 5). When the enemy is tried, let him be convicted and sentenced, ‘and let his prayer be turned into sin’ (v. 6). This again means, I think, not his prayers to God, but his supplications to a human judge, which are to make things all the hotter for him (double the sentence because he begged for it to be halved). May his days be few, may his job be given to someone else (v. 7). When he is dead may his orphans be beggars (v. 9). May he look in vain for anyone in the world to pity him (v. 11). Let God always remember against him the sins of his parents (v. 13).

Even more devilish in one verse is the otherwise beautiful Psalm 137 where a blessing is pronounced on anyone who will snatch up a Babylonian baby and beat its brains out against the pavement (v. 9).

Ancient and oriental cultures are in many ways more conventional, more ceremonious, and more courteous than our own. But their restraints came in different places. Hatred did not need to be disguised for the sake of social decorum or for fear anyone would accuse you of a neurosis. We therefore see it in its ‘wild’ or natural condition.

It seemed to me that, seeing in them hatred undisguised, saw also the natural result of injuring a human being.

Anger in Psalms is not to encourage our revenge

The reaction of the Psalmists to injury, though profoundly natural, is profoundly wrong.

‘Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart thou shalt not avenge or bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,’ says Leviticus (19:17, 18).

In Exodus we read, ‘If thou seest the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden thou shaft surely help with him,’ and ‘if thou meet thine enemy’s ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him’ (23:4, 5).

‘Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth’ (Proverbs 24:17).

And I shall never forget my surprise when I first discovered that St Paul’s ‘If thine enemy hunger, give him bread’, etc., is a direct quotation from the same book (Proverbs 25:21).

Anger in Psalms reminds us we need to forgive

There is no use talking as if forgiveness were easy.

We all know the old joke, ‘You’ve given up smoking once; I’ve given it up a dozen times.’

In the same way I could say of a certain man, ‘Have I forgiven him for what he did that day? I’ve forgiven him more times than I can count.’

For we find that the work of forgiveness has to be done over and over again. We forgive, we mortify our resentment; a week later some chain of thought carries us back to the original offence and we discover the old resentment blazing away as if nothing had been done about it at all. We need to forgive our brother seventy times seven not only for 490 offences but for one offence.

Anger in Psalms reflects that sin is hateful to God

If the Jews cursed more bitterly than the Pagans this was, I think, at least in part because they took right and wrong more seriously. For if we look at their railings we find they are usually angry not simply because these things have been done to them but because these things are manifestly wrong, are hateful to God as well as to the victim. Sometimes it comes into the foreground; as in Psalm 58: 9, 10, ‘The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance … so that a man shall say … Doubtless there is a God that judgeth the earth.’

For we can still see, in the worst of their maledictions, how these old poets were, in a sense, near to God. Not, we trust, that God looks upon their enemies as they do: He ‘desireth not the death of a sinner’. But doubtless He has for the sin of those enemies just the implacable hostility which the poets express. Implacable? Yes, not to the sinner but to sin. It will not be tolerated nor condoned, no treaty will be made with it.

Against all this the ferocious parts of the Psalms serve as a reminder that there is in the world such a thing as wickedness and that it (if not its perpetrators) is hateful to God.[2]

  1. “Anger.” Accessed 10 June 2017.
  2. Lewis, Clive Staples. Reflections on the Psalms. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1958, pp. 17-28.

Assertion works well when you’re quick and nonjudgmental, and you listen

Diagram on enlarging the “No Problem Area” with various skills, showing where assertion works

Enlarging the “No Problem Area” with various skills

Assertion works sometimes when you’re just quick and nonjudgmental

John, I’m glad to have the opportunity to talk with you. Okay, Doc, what’s up?
Do you remember about a month ago, you came in with a cold and I saw you? Yes, I do.
Well, I learned that you returned after I left and complained to the on-call nurse about how you’d been treated. Did I? I don’t really remember.
Well, I just wanted you to know I was annoyed by your complaining, since I had given you the opportunity to tell your concerns at that visit.
Sorry, Doc. I didn’t think that what I did would bother anyone.
Okay. I just wanted you to be aware.  


Good morning, Carrie. I was just talking with your Mom about your diabetes. She’s quite worried. She’s always worrying. I’m doing okay.
I’m sorry, Carrie, but I have a problem with what you just said.
What problem?
You said that you were doing okay. I disagree, and I’m concerned because you’re not testing your sugar levels or following your diet, and that has resulted in two hospitalizations. If you are to stay out of the hospital, I need your cooperation.


Assertion works more reliably when you also listen

I have a problem with your taking so much time before letting me administer your shots each time. I’m afraid I won’t be able to get to my other patients.
I really hate those shots. They hurt a lot, and I’ve always been a baby about pain.
You’ve always been afraid of pain, and these shots really hurt.


I have a problem when you say you don’t walk every day. I’m afraid the circulation in your legs will get worse, and that would make me feel I haven’t done my job well.
It takes too much time. Right now I’m swamped with work at the office.
It sounds like your work has a higher priority right now, so there’s no time for walking.

 Assertion works amazingly well sometimes if you just try it

One morning the door swung open and in marched a resolute five-year-old boy with a diagnosis of leukemia. He was followed by four nurses, one of whom said, “This is David.” I was surprised to see so many nurses and was about to ask why, when one of them lifted David to the table. Suddenly there was a mass of struggling women: “Got his leg? I have his arm. Watch out, he bites… ” and the room was filled with David screaming and screaming.

A little arm projected from under the white mound of their bodies. As it was smaller than the rest, I drew blood from it, assuming that it was David’s. I said, “I have it,”…

…one by one the nurses, wrinkled and sweating, got up, and left David alone and quiet on the table. He was watching me.

My hands were shaking so badly that I could not transfer David’s blood from the syringe into the test tube. I brought my hands up against my chest to steady the transfer.

David said, “Why are your hands shaking?”

…I found myself saying, “I’m shaking because you yelled so loud you frightened me.”

A few days later I was again in the treatment room at dawn. As I glanced anxiously over the list of patients, my eye caught David’s name. I asked that he be called first, as I wanted to have it over with. The door swung open, and in walked David, followed by four nurses.

Waving the nurses back, he climbed up on the table and extended his arm to me. “There,” he said, “I won’t scare you this time.”

And he never “scared” me again.

  1. Gordon, Thomas, and W. Sterling Edwards. Making the patient your partner: Communication skills for doctors and other caregivers. ABC-CLIO, 1997, pp. 104, 113-117.

Reflective listening is interacting to understand

Reflective listening is interacting to understand[1]

Reflective listening reflects the speaker’s attitudes

Rogers offers two guidelines for clarifications. First, they must be crafted exclusively out of what the client has already said, and second, they must clarify an insight that the client has already had.

Later, Rogers refers to a session transcript that shows how a therapist… specifically mirrors the client’s attitudes, rather than the client’s actual words. In this transcript, the therapist rarely says anything that could be construed as a reflection of the client’s speech.

Rogers and Wallen contend that… only two therapist moves are needed: simple acceptance of the client’s remarks with statements like ‘‘I see’’ or ‘‘yes,’’ and reflection of feeling.

Rogers and Wallen sometimes refers to the client’s feelings, but at other times to so-called emotionalized attitudes. For example, Rogers and Wallen give the example of a client who feels his wife is inconsiderate, and suggests the reflection: ‘‘You feel that she is pretty selfish.’’ This is not exactly a feeling per se, and appears to be an example of what Rogers and Wallen mean by emotionalized attitude.

Reflective listening reflects the listener’s empathy

…the therapist’s attitude is also vitally important. Reflection of feeling, then, is not a technique, but a method of implementing client-centered attitudes of acceptance and understanding.

True empathy, Rogers implies, is inherently provisional. In this respect, reflections of feeling are verbalizations of thoughts that tend to naturally enter the mind of a therapist who maintains an empathic attitude.

When the optimal attitude is achieved, the relationship between the therapist’s inner experience and his or her verbalizations becomes nearly seamless. The therapist simply gives voice to her or his thoughts, which are already empathic.

Rogerian empathy… is an ideal state of exquisitely sensitive moment-to-moment attunement to the client’s flow of experience that is so thoroughly immersive that Rogers goes so far as to call it ‘‘trancelike.’’

He reconceptualizes empathy as an iterative relational process in which the therapist participates, rather than a process occurring within the mind of the therapist. Empathy is a way of being with another person.

Reflective listening is closer understanding

First, every reflection must include an implied question to the client: Is what I am saying now precisely accurate for you? Second, every reflection must include an implied invitation: If what I am saying is not precisely accurate for you, help me revise my perception so that it is closer to your own.

…he suggests that reflections be renamed ‘‘testing understandings’’ or ‘‘checking perceptions.’’ These phrasings are attempts to further transform the reflection of feeling into an interactional concept. Reflection, here, refers not to the therapist’s speech itself, but purely to how it is experienced by the client.

What is to the therapists a messy series of rough approximations appears to the client as a seamless surface of understanding.

Reflective listening recommendations

  1. Reflections should be directed to the emotional essence of what the client has expressed, and/or to the client’s felt sense of their emerging experiencing, rather than to concrete issues.
  2. Reflections must congruently implement therapist attitudes of acceptance and empathy.
  3. Reflections are part of an empathic dialogue. Accordingly, they must include the implicit invitation for the client to check their accuracy with the client’s inner felt experiencing, and to correct them if needed.
  4. Reflections may be safest when sculpted out of material drawn from the client’s remarks, and when they further develop insights that have already begun to emerge in the client, rather than referring to feelings and attitudes that the client has not yet expressed. However, if the empathic dialogue has advanced to the point that client and therapist are in a shared altered state of consciousness (=empathy trance), therapist understandings may emerge naturally as remarks that may appear unrelated to what the client has explicitly said.
  5. To be in a position to effectively use reflections, the therapist may cultivate an empathic frame of mind. If this underlying attitude is absent, reflections may be incongruent and, therefore, are unlikely to be effective.
  6. Reflections are best couched in provisional rather than declarative form [reflections are best when they’re tentative, not authoritative].
  7. Reflections should not interrupt the flow of the client’s process.[2]

  1. Minarik, Susan K. “Can You Hear Me Now? A Positive Guide to Listening Well.” Positive-Living-Now, 4 Sep. 2010, Accessed 1 June 2017.
  2. Arnold, Kyle. “Behind the mirror: Reflective listening and its tain in the work of Carl Rogers.” The Humanistic Psychologist 42.4 (2014): 354-369.

People grow alike naturally, as the people with less power change

A little girl looks at her mom, showing one big way that people grow alike naturally

A little girl looks at her mom, showing one big way that people grow alike naturally [1]

People grow alike temporarily while they’re together

…people in close relationships become more similar to each other over time. For example, relationship partners converge in their values and attitudes, verbal and social skills, cognitive complexity and mental abilities, eating and drinking habits, and perceptions of others.

People express emotion through facial, vocal, and postural behavior, and quickly and automatically detect and interpret the emotional expressions of others.

Moreover, people are quite susceptible to the social transmission of emotion. Research on emotional contagion has shown that people automatically mimic facial expressions, vocalizations, and postures when they interact with another person, which leads both individuals to experience similar emotions. Studies of empathy find that people take the perspective of others and vicariously feel the emotions that the other person feels.

People grow alike over time emotionally

In the present study, we ask: Do relationship partners also converge emotionally over time?

The development of emotional similarity would benefit relationships in at least three ways. First, because emotions are modes of relating to the environment, emotional similarity would coordinate relationship partners’ thoughts and behaviors and help them respond to potential opportunities or threats. Second, when two people feel similar emotions, they more accurately perceive each other’s intentions and motivations. Third, emotional similarity would be reinforcing to relationship partners; when two people feel similar emotions, their own feelings and appraisals are validated.

…our three studies offer strong evidence that emotional convergence does occur…

…the current research shows how emotions help individuals build and maintain long-term, intimate relationships. Our research shows that close relationships shape emotional responses in fundamental ways. We become emotionally similar, both in experience and display, to those people with whom we are intertwined.

People grow alike in ways that help the relationship

…we hypothesized that emotional similarity would benefit close relationships. The evidence for this hypothesis was strong and consistent across studies.

…this similarity would help coordinate the thoughts and behaviors of the relationship partners, increase their mutual understanding, and foster their social cohesion.

…relationships whose partners were more emotionally similar were more cohesive and less likely to dissolve.

People grow alike regardless of whether the changes help them personally or hurt them personally

…our findings shed light on processes by which relationship partners “transmit” emotional disorders such as depression or anxiety. For example, children of depressed parents are often themselves depressed, and individuals who live with a depressed person can become depressed. The social transmission of emotion may not be limited to clinical levels of emotionality, or even limited to negative emotion. The transmission of emotional disorders can now be understood as a special case of a much broader and inherently normal emotion process in close relationships.

…emotional convergence may be due to a convergence in appraisal styles. Ways of appraising events lead to specific emotions, just as specific emotional dispositions lead to ways of appraising social events. For example, people who view an event as uncontrollable and dangerous tend to experience fear in response to that event. When individuals become close, they might converge in appraisal styles, which in turn leads to greater similarity in emotional responses. Consistent with this idea, close friends are similar in the cognitive dimensions they use to describe themselves and others.

The people with less power change the most

…relationship partners with less power made more of the change necessary for convergence to occur.

These findings paint a striking picture of the emotional lives of powerful and powerless people. The emotional lives of low-power individuals… seem more variable, changing across relationship contexts.[2]

  1. “Child & Parent Place (CAPP).” Accessed 29 May 2017.
  2. Anderson, Cameron, Dacher Keltner, and Oliver P. John. “Emotional Convergence Between People Over Time.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84.5 (2003): 1054-1068.

Petting dogs, and being touched by dogs, builds bonds we need

A ruby cavalier puppy lying on his master’s lap is a classic example of petting dogs

A ruby cavalier puppy lying on his master’s lap [1]

Bonding is necessary for normal development

The long-term discovery from Harlow’s work was that… isolated monkeys developed relatively normally physically, but abnormally socially. They did not interact with other monkeys well: terrified, they huddled in the corner when another young monkey was put into their cage.

Social interaction and personal contact is more than desirable: it is necessary for normal development.

Months later, Harlow tried to rehabilitate those monkeys whose early isolation so malformed them. He found that the best remedy was regular contact with young normal monkeys, whom he came to call “therapy monkeys,” in play. This restored some of the isolates to more normal social actors.

Petting dogs brings measurable changes that are very good

Simply petting a dog can reduce an overactive sympathetic nervous system within minutes: a racing heart, high blood pressure, the sweats. Levels of endorphins (hormones that make us feel good) and oxytocin and prolactin (those hormones involved in social attachment) go up when we’re with dogs. Cortisol (stress hormone) levels go down.

There is good reason to believe that living with a dog provides the social support which correlates with reduced risk for various diseases, from cardiovascular disease to diabetes to pneumonia, and better rates of recovery from those diseases we do get.

In many cases, the dog receives nearly the same effect. Human company can lower a dog’s cortisol level; petting can calm a racing heart.

Bonding with a pet can do the work that long-term use of prescribed drugs or cognitive behavioral therapy do.

Petting dogs is the first thing we reach for to build bonds

There are three essential behavioral means by which we maintain, and feel rewarded by, bonding with dogs. The first is contact: the touch of an animal…

Petting zoos have arisen to satisfy the urge to engage that animal on the other side of the fence not only by looking at it, but by touching it. Better still if the animal is touching back—with, say, a warm tongue or worn teeth grabbing at the food in your outstretched hands.

Children and even adults who approach me on the street as I walk with my dog want not to look at the dog, to watch her wag, to meditate on the dog—no, they want to pet the dog: to touch her. In fact, after a cursory rub, many people appear satisfied with that interaction. Even a brief touch is sufficient to bolster the feeling that a connection has been made.

Occasionally one might find one’s toes, hanging off the end of the bed bare, being licked.

Petting dogs — and in general, touch — is the first thing dogs reach for to build bonds

Dogs and humans share this innate drive for contact. … being held by the mother may be naturally comforting.

Watch an infant child, with limited vision and even more limited mobility, try to snuggle into his mother, his head rooting around for contact, and one is seeing just what newborn puppies look like.

Blind and deaf at birth, they are born with the instinct to huddle with siblings and their mother, or even with any solid object nearby. The ethologist Michael Fox describes the head of a puppy as a “thermotactile sensory probe,” moving in a semicircle until it touches something. This begins a life of social behavior reinforced by and embracing contact.

Wolves are estimated to make a move to touch one another at least six times an hour.

Petting dogs, and being touched by dogs, builds our bonds and maintains our bonds

Directed toward us, the dog’s youthful instinct becomes a drive to burrow a head under our sleeping bodies or to rest a head upon us; to push and bump us as we walk; to gently nibble or lick us dry. We find them touchable: furry and soft, right under dangling fingertips…

…full-body contact is preferred by some dogs, especially young dogs, and especially when they are the initiators of the contact. Dogs often find places to lie down that maximize contiguity of body with body. This might be a safe posture for dogs, especially as puppies, when they are entirely reliant on others for their care. To feel light pressure along the whole body is to have assurance of your well-being.

It is hard to imagine knowing a dog but not touching him—or being touched by him. To be nudged by a dog’s nose is a pleasure unmatched.[2]

  1. Tamaki, Rie. “Yuzu Ruby Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Puppy Sleeping on My Lap.” YouTube, 6 May 2013, Accessed 28 May 2017.
  2. Horowitz, Alexandra. Inside of a dog: What dogs see, smell, and know. Scribner, 2009, Scribd pp. 325-343.

Great storytelling shares self-knowledge

Robert McKee shows that great storytelling shares self-knowledge.

Great storytelling matches how we remember

So, what is a story?
Essentially, a story expresses how and why life changes.

How would an executive learn to tell stories?
Stories have been implanted in you thousands of times since your mother took you on her knee. You’ve read good books, seen movies, attended plays. What’s more, human beings naturally want to work through stories. Cognitive psychologists describe how the human mind, in its attempt to understand and remember, assembles the bits and pieces of experience into a story, beginning with a personal desire, a life objective, and then portraying the struggle against the forces that block that desire. Stories are how we remember…[1]

In this world, you will have trouble[2]

What makes a good story?
You emphatically do not want to tell a beginning-to-end tale describing how results meet expectations. This is boring and banal. Instead, you want to display the struggle between expectation and reality in all its nastiness.

What’s wrong with painting a positive picture?
It doesn’t ring true. The great irony of existence is that what makes life worth living does not come from the rosy side. We would all rather be lotus-eaters, but life will not allow it. The energy to live comes from the dark side. It comes from everything that makes us suffer. As we struggle against these negative powers, we’re forced to live more deeply, more fully.

So acknowledging this dark side makes you more convincing?
Of course. Because you’re more truthful. One of the principles of good storytelling is the understanding that we all live in dread. Fear is when you don’t know what’s going to happen. Dread is when you know what’s going to happen and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Death is the great dread; we all live in an ever shrinking shadow of time, and between now and then all kinds of bad things could happen. Ever since human beings sat around the fire in caves, we’ve told stories to help us deal with the dread of life and the struggle to survive. All great stories illuminate the dark side. I’m not talking about so-called “pure” evil, because there is no such thing. We are all evil and good, and these sides do continual battle. Audiences appreciate the truthfulness of a storyteller who acknowledges the dark side of human beings and deals honestly with antagonistic events. The story engenders a positive but realistic energy in the people who hear it.

Does this mean you have to be a pessimist?
It’s not a question of whether you’re optimistic or pessimistic. It seems to me that the civilized human being is a skeptic – someone who believes nothing at face value.

Great storytelling faces trouble

So, a story that embraces darkness produces a positive energy in listeners?
Absolutely. We follow people in whom we believe. To get people behind you, you can tell a truthful story. The story of General Electric is wonderful and has nothing to do with Jack Welch’s cult of celebrity. If you have a grand view of life, you can see it on all its complex levels and celebrate it in a story. A great CEO is someone who has come to terms with his or her own mortality and, as a result, has compassion for others. This compassion is expressed in stories.

How do storytellers discover and unearth the stories that want to be told?
The storyteller discovers a story by asking certain key questions.

  • First, what does my protagonist want in order to restore balance in his or her life? Desire is the blood of a story. Desire is not a shopping list but a core need that, if satisfied, would stop the story in its tracks.
  • Next, what is keeping my protagonist from achieving his or her desire? Forces within? Doubt? Fear? Confusion? Personal conflicts with friends, family, lovers? Social conflicts arising in the various institutions in society? Physical conflicts? The forces of Mother Nature? Lethal diseases in the air? Not enough time to get things done? The damned automobile that won’t start? Antagonists come from people, society, time, space, and every object in it, or any combination of these forces at once.
  • Then, how would my protagonist decide to act in order to achieve his or her desire in the face of these antagonistic forces? It’s in the answer to that question that storytellers discover the truth of their characters, because the heart of a human being is revealed in the choices he or she makes under pressure.
  • Finally, the storyteller leans back from the design of events he or she has created and asks, “Do I believe this? Is it neither an exaggeration nor a soft-soaping of the struggle? Is this an honest telling, though heaven may fall?”

Great storytelling shares self-knowledge

Does being a good storyteller make you a good leader?
The art of storytelling takes intelligence, but it also demands a life experience that I’ve noted in gifted film directors: the pain of childhood. Self-knowledge is the root of all great storytelling. A storyteller creates all characters from the self by asking the question, “If I were this character in these circumstances, what would I do?” The more you understand your own humanity, the more you can appreciate the humanity of others in all their good-versus-evil struggles. I would argue that the great leaders Jim Collins describes are people with enormous self-knowledge. They have self-insight and self-respect balanced by skepticism. Great storytellers – and, I suspect, great leaders – are skeptics who understand their own masks as well as the masks of life, and this understanding makes them humble. They see the humanity in others and deal with them in a compassionate yet realistic way. That duality makes for a wonderful leader.[1]

  1. Fryer, Bronwyn. “Storytelling that moves people. A Conversation with Screenwriting Coach Robert McKee.” Harvard Business Review 81.6 (June 2003): 51-55.
  2. The Bible. New International Version, 2011. John 16:33.

Assert well by stating one sentence, listening, and reasserting

The increase and decrease of defensiveness with reflecitve listening to assert well

Figure 10.1. The increase and decrease of defensiveness in the assertion process as the asserter “shifts gears” between asserting and reflective listening responses.

…when someone is violating my space, I want THAT behavior changed.

The three-part assertion message… begins with a description of the offending behavior and includes a description of the consequences on your life and how you feel about those consequences.

The three parts of the assertion message are stated as succinctly as possible and are contained in one sentence.

Effective assertion is characterized by firmness without domination. It vigorously defends one’s own space while steadfastly refusing to violate the trespasser’s turf. That is why the three-part message contains no solution. It is up to the other person to figure out how he can best evacuate my space.

Beginners at assertion usually send more effective messages when they use the formula:

When you [state the behavior nonjudgmentally],
I feel [disclose your feelings]
because [clarify the effect on your life].”

Assert well in one sentence: describe one behavior

First, describe the behavior in specific rather than fuzzy terms.

Second, limit yourself to behavioral descriptions. …behavior… is observable. Anyone present who had sound hearing and sight could have noticed the same behaviors.

Third, make your behavior description an objective statement rather than a judgment. …be sure that no subtle judgmental words have crept in.

Fourth, behavioral descriptions should be as brief as possible. I typically concentrate on one behavior at a time.

Fifth, be sure that you assert about the real issues. …repeated small irritants often grow until they loom large in our feeling world.

Sixth, be sure to assert to the right person.

Assert well in one sentence: disclose your feeling

“When I experienced the negative effect of the other’s behavior, what was the first feeling I experienced?” Often the first feeling is the primary feeling—the one which belongs in the assertion message.

The asserter can increase the emotional accuracy of his statement by selecting from several words of varying intensity to see which best matches his inner feeling. For example, he might try such words as “nervous,” “worried,” “afraid,” or “petrified.”

The more we express our feelings, the more we sharpen our emotional awareness.

Assert well in one sentence: say one tangible effect

Concrete or tangible effects” seem to be most convincing to people. By concrete or tangible effects we mean those things that unnecessarily cost the asserter money, harm his possessions, consume his time, cause him extra work, endanger his job, and/or interfere with his effectiveness at work.

In most ordinary relationships and in every significant relationship, people trespass on one another’s turf in tangible ways.

The assertion message that cites tangible effects often influences the intangible areas of a relationship.

…a three-part assertion on values issues is never appropriate (in fact, you can never complete the third part—citing a concrete effect of the other’s behavior on your life space).  One assertion after another is discarded—as many as half to three-quarters of them—because they fall into the values area and constitute an intrusion on the other person’s space rather than a defense of the asserter’s space.

Effective assertion is open and honest communication.

Assert well by shifting gears: reflectively listen, then reassert

I get down to business quickly. When you send an assertion, your body language should demonstrate that you mean what you say, that you are not ambivalent about it, and that you expect to get your needs met. At the same time, assertive body language communicates respect for the other person.

After sending your brief assertion message with appropriate body language—stop. Be silent.

…it is almost certain that the person to whom the assertion was addressed will make a defensive response. …it is most important to “shift gears” and listen reflectively to the predictable defensive response. As Figure 10.1 indicates, this shifting back and forth between assertion and listening normally takes place several times before the assertion is completed.

As the recipient of the assertion expresses her defensiveness and that is reflected back with respect, her defensiveness subsides. The vicious cycle of increasing defensiveness is broken and constructive conversation can begin again.

The defensiveness-reducing power of effective listening responses is truly remarkable. For many people, it must be seen to be believed.[1]

  1. Bolton, Robert. People skills. Touchstone, 2009, pp. 262-314.