Does Vocabulary Affect Emotions?Science project video

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Could the habitual vocabulary that we use affect the intensity of our emotions? Could simply changing our vocabulary create a shift in how we feel? There is science behind this idea, that vocabulary may be cause a conditioned response in how we respond to a situation. In this experiment, you will test out this theory.


Evaluate the effects of vocabulary on emotions.


The 20th century psychologist B.F. Skinner was famous for his experiment in conditioning, which involved associating a neutral stimulus with a conditioned stimulus. He showed a dog a steak, causing the dog to salivate. The steak was a conditioned stimulus, in that the steak was already associated with food, in the dog?s mind. Skinner then decided to ring a bell every time he put the steak in front of the dog. The bell alone was a "neutral" stimulus - because dog did not associate it with anything. However, after repeatedly presenting the steak while ringing the bell, the dog started to salivate when the bell was rung, without the steak being present! The bell changed from a neutral object to one that invoked an emotional and physiological response from the dog. In a similar way, when we habitually use a specific word or phrase; while we are experiencing strong emotions, that language becomes a conditioned stimulus.

Scientific Terms

Vocabulary, Conditioning, Emotions


  • Ten participants who are willing to share a personal and emotional experience. Participants should be a mixture of male and female and be of high-school age or older.
  • Vocabulary list (See bibliography)
  • Data sheet (provided).


Pre experiment

  1. Perform the experiment with one participant at a time.
  2. Conduct the experiment in a comfortable environment where the participant is relaxed.
  3. Spend time at the beginning, to get to know each other and build rapport.


  1. Ask the participant to share their moving experience.
  2. Listen carefully to the participant and ask for clarification when needed.
  3. Ask questions that will invite the participant to connect with the feelings of that situation, such as "What was that like?" or "How did you feel about that?"
  4. Make your interactions with the participant as natural and friendly as possible.
  5. Pay attention to the words or phrases that the participant uses when describing their experience, words such "angry" "furious" or "mad."
  6. Record these words in the data sheet under column A.
  7. When the participants finishes sharing their story, ask them how they are now feeling, emotionally.
  8. On a scale of 0-2, have the participants rate their level of emotional intensity, where 0 is neutral, 1 is mild, and 2 is high.
  9. Record the rating in the data sheet under column B.
  10. Have the participant try a new vocabulary word or phrase (see resource in bibliography).
  11. If the participant had strong negative emotions, choose a word that is milder in its connotation (If the participant says they were "angry" request they say "disappointed." If the participant said they were "joyous" ask them to say that they were "happy."
  12. You can select a word or phrase for the participant.
  13. Have the participant say the word out loud.
  14. Ask the participant to tell you how they feel after saying the word or phrase.
  15. Notate these words in the data sheet under column C.
  16. On a scale of 0-2, as the participant to rate their level of emotional intensity, where 0 is neutral, 1 is mild, and 2 is high.
  17. Notate the rating in the data sheet under column D.
  18. Find the difference between the two scores and place in column E.
  19. Do they report a change in how they feel?
  20. Repeat this process with all participants.
  21. When all participants have been scored, find the average level of emotion for all participants by totaling the column A scores and dividing by 10. Repeat this step for columns B, C, D, and E.
  22. Was there a change in level of emotion with a change in vocabulary?







Participant?s word or phrase

Participant?s emotional level (0-2)

Participant?s new word or phrase

Participant?s emotional level (0-2)

Change in emotional level

Participant 1


Participant 2


Participant 3


Participant 4


Participant 5


Participant 6


Participant 7


Participant 8


Participant 9


Participant 10


Average emotional level




If the habitual words that we use can create a condition emotional response, then the same may be true for any other mental or physical activity that we habitually engage in. Consider posture, facial expressions, or patterns of thought and how they can become linked to specific emotions. Start practicing self awareness in your habitual thoughts, speech, and actions. Take notice of any emotions that they elicit.

Questions & Answers

What is a conditioned stimulus?

A conditioned stimulus is a neutral stimulus that acquires the ability to elicit a response through conditioning.

What is a conditioned response?

A conditioned response is a predictable response that is elicited by a stimulus.

Make it Your Own

Conduct an investigation on how fast you can develop new associations to your habits where you are in control of the conditioning process.