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Learning New Words Every Day Can Make You Much Smarter, Study Finds

Learning New Words Every Day Can Make You Much Smarter, Study Finds

Learning a new language is well-known to improve cognitive ability, but what about expanding vocabulary in your own native language? Many of us fall out of the habit of learning new words as it’s often synonymous with our school years meaning we don’t always actively seek out new words to improve our range of vocabulary in adult life. However, developing the habit of learning new words can be beneficial (and enjoyable) in many areas of your life.

How Learning New Words Can Make You Smarter

A recent study looked at the impact that learning new vocabulary has on different areas of the brain. The correlation between vocabulary, intelligence and real-world ability has been found to exist from a very early age right through to adulthood. It primarily stretches our working memory as well as our ability to communicate more efficiently with the world around us, subtly opening up our perspectives and ways of communication.

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Our working memory can only hold so much information so learning new words actually helps our brain to create more ways of retaining information. Each new word we learn gets placed into our long-term memory. While this may seem to be counterproductive, it actually allows us to associate much more information with each word, meaning our brain doesn’t need to dredge through and reach for information in order to express ourselves better. In other words, we are able to express more easily.

The concept of increasing vocabulary can be applied to whole spheres of knowledge and experience. So in effect, a large vocabulary is a powerful coping strategy that enhances our general cognitive ability and increases intelligence.

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Ways To Make Learning New Words A Habit

We may think our vocabulary range is pretty wide, but it can always be widened even further. Making a habit of finding new words and putting them into practice will go a long way to increasing your brain capacity and expanding your mind to the world around you.

1. Really notice new words: We come across new words daily whether through reading, watching TV or talking with others; it may surprise you how often we skim over the new word or just second guess what it means through context.

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Alternatively, there may be many words we think we know but when asked to give a true definition we may struggle. Making a conscious effort to look up any words we’re unsure of and understand their meaning will go towards making sure we will always use those words in the right way with confidence.

2. Read more: Reading is a great way to increase vocabulary if done in the right way. Make sure you read something interesting to you with the intent of questioning which words you don’t fully understand. Reading on a regular basis will expose you to many more words.

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3. Use a dictionary: An obvious one, but more often than not a dictionary is only pulled out once in a blue moon to check a word. One habit is to pick a random word to learn each day, write it down and find ways to use it in conversation. Circle words you’ve learned and flick back through it every so often to refresh and test yourself on the highlighted words.

Recommended Resources

There are many apps and online resources to help you to develop a habit of learning a new word every day.

  • Vocabulary.com is a combined learning tool and game that helps you find new words and remember them.
  • Word A Day Widget can be downloaded on any device and gives you a new random word to learn each day.
  • Words With Friends is a great game that forces you to find unusual words to win and gets your mind reaching for those forgotten words.
  • Magoosh is great for differing levels of vocabulary and uses strategies to help you remember the new words you’ve learned.

Featured photo credit: unsplash.com via pexels.com

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Jenny Marchal

Freelance Writer

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Last Updated on June 6, 2019

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.

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     A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice.[1] The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

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    The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

    “We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

    In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

    The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

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      A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

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      Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.

      “When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

      When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

      The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

      As Herman Melville once wrote,[2]

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      “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

      Silence relieves stress and tension.

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        It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

        A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

        “This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.[3]

        Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.[4]

        Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

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          The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

          Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

          But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.[5]

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          Summation

          Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

          Featured photo credit: Angelina Litvin via unsplash.com

          Reference

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