Take the advice of a speech-language pathologist in training — perception is subjective

How psycholinguistics mirrors our progress as people


Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about psycholinguistics.

As a speech pathology student, I have learned a great deal about psycholinguistics. Not only is there an entire three-credit class dedicated to the subject matter, courtesy of the Curry School, but my curriculum is also speckled with bouts of this information — everything from how to find the fundamental frequencies of our voices to the places of articulation for each consonant in our language. 

I know this like the back of my hand and even though it’s ingrained in my very core, I keep learning it. To a speech pathologist, psycholinguistics is that ex-boyfriend that won’t take the hint and keeps coming back for more of our attention — regardless of how many times we’ve “been there and done that.”

Either way, I made the most of it. I started to challenge myself with this material. I started to apply and relate this information to the bigger picture — as would any speech-pathologist-in-training. This made everything far more interesting.

One of these psycholinguistic aspects that I’ve been stuck on is this concept of “categorical perception,” which I should probably explain for the vast majority of the University population who aren’t speech pathology students. The definition is very diverse, but the most important and unifying concept refers to “the smallest amount of change necessary in order for the change itself to be observable.” It sounds more confusing than it is — I promise! – and thanks to my creative and artistic flair, I was able to devise an example that doesn’t revolve around language.

Imagine that there is a crystal-clear glass of water in your hand. It’s filled to some random point and there are no measurements to indicate how full it really is. It’s just a clear, unremarkable boring thing that is used to satiate thirst. Great. Now, let’s say you take a small sip from that glass of water. Would the water level be noticeably different? Probably not. What if you took 15 small sips? At that point, the change would probably be noticeable.

As my time on Grounds winds down, I have found myself looking inward and analyzing my own growth, and I have applied this concept of categorical perception to my own life. I certainly am different now than the first day I stepped foot on Grounds. I’ve learned. I’ve gained experiences. My values and personalities have changed — hopefully, for the better. The real question is … at what point in my experience did I change? When did my values change? When did my personality evolve? Or, maybe, I’ve changed multiple times throughout my years here.

I am different than the person I was two years ago — that much is obvious — but I am certainly the same person that I was two hours ago. The criteria is all subjective. The line is so thin. I suppose, that’s why it’s a form of “perception” — it differs from person to person.

For those of you that are on the edge of your seat, I’ve got a second psycholinguistic concept for you and it goes hand-in-hand with categorical perception. It’s called the McGurk Effect.

The go-to example for this is language related — sorry, but I am a speech pathology student, right? Here, a recording of an ambiguous sound plays. No one can distinguish the sound; that is, until it is paired with a visual aid: <ba>. Once people read this, they are spontaneously able to recognize the sound as resembling the noise “ba.” The same happens when the visual changes – first to <da> and then to <ga>. The catch? The sound was the exact same throughout the recording.

The point? The perception we have of our lives is subjective, and it’s dependent on extraneous factors. Now, how does this connect to my earlier point? Simple — don’t let others influence how you recognize your own changes. Your progress is your own. Your accomplishments are your own. This is a difficult thing to master, but it is important. Be confident!

Thanks to Curry, psycholinguistics is quick to spring into my mind. It just happens. But these concepts apply well to the lives of all people — even in the lives of non-speech pathology students.

We all change, little by little, and as long as our changes propel us forward in our lives, they are positive. So, take the time to look inward, strive for betterment and ignore the unwanted peanut gallery that works to diminish your progress.

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