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See Inside April/May 2007

Something, Um, Unexpected

Words like “um” and “er” tend to have a bad reputation, but a new study suggests that they might actually do listeners a favor.

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Stirling in the U.K. measured brain activity to assess listeners’ understanding. Immediately after a person hears words, brain activity spikes downward. In the study, the larger the spike, the more difficult it was for the listener to put the words into context.

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