Trivia

Hard

When You Repeat A Word So Much It Loses Meaning You Experience?

Verbal Saturation
Semantic Satiation
Lingual Exhaustion
A Verborphorme
Photo of a randomly chosen page in a library dictionary.
Eric E. Castro/Flickr

Answer: Semantic Satiation

At some point, almost every one of us has experienced this phenomenon (and most likely at least once during childhood): you repeat a word enough times out loud and suddenly the word loses meaning. There you were, back in grade school, sitting on the school bus repeating the word “potato” over and over again to annoy your friend and for a weird moment, potato suddenly didn’t mean anything anymore and you might as well have been saying any number of gibberish words.

But how can that happen? How can a common word that you understand very clearly suddenly become unclear? It turns out that when your teachers urged you to study and use your brain like a muscle that needed to be exercised, that exercise metaphor could be applied to more than just powering through your algebra homework. Like muscle tissue, parts of the brain can in fact become stimulated to the point of temporary exhaustion and when you say a particular word over and over again to the point of experiencing semantic satiation, then the specific neural pattern that is aroused by you accessing the memory/knowledge of that word and engaging your verbal centers becomes inhibited. You react slower and slower to the meaning of the word until the word becomes nonsense.

In research studies, not only was the phenomenon isolated, but it was found that participants in the study actually did worse on cognitive tasks using the word they had, just prior, repeated to the point of semantic satiation. Their ability to engage the word and its associated concept(s) had, if you will, been exhausted.

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