Magazine Article

Life-changing Words

We were created to be social creatures

Daniel Bruneau
Life-changing Words
Photo by Sven Brandsma on Unsplash

Whenever we encounter a new experience, the wiring of our brain changes. In the realm of neuroscience, we call this plasticity, and it is one of the many utterly wondrous God-created functions of our brain that has caused ripples in the brain-behavior research community since its formalized discovery a few decades ago.  

In fact, as you interact with others, microscopic parts of your neurons undergo a gradual daily change, as branchlike dendrites become bushier, and their associated neural connections become more efficient in the signals that they transmit. In other words, your interactions with others—be they friends, family, or even strangers—plays a significant role in contributing to the structure and function of your brain and is essential to our wholeness as human beings. 

We were created to be social creatures, and who we are, how we act and behave, and what we say can have a powerful effect on those around us. For example, if you raise your voice when interacting with someone, you can affect what goes on inside the other person’s body, such as their heart rate and the chemicals carried in their bloodstream. Similarly, if a loved one is in pain, you can lessen their suffering merely by holding their hand.

Ellen White vividly describes the tenderness of Jesus’ visage and His impactful words as He approached the man at the Pool of Bethesda: “The sick man was lying on his mat and occasionally lifting his head to gaze at the pool, when a tender, compassionate face bent over him, and the words, ‘Wilt thou be made whole?’ arrested his attention. Hope came to his heart. He felt that in some way he was to have help.” 1

In actions and then in life-changing words of power, Jesus arrested the attention of the paralyzed man and ultimately healed him.

Our words can have a profound effect on others. In fact, as experimental psychologist and neuroscientist Lisa Barret reveals, we regulate each other with words.2 For example, a kind word may calm you, whereas a negative, hateful word may cause your brain to perceive a potential threat. In both instances our breathing, heart rate, and metabolism are affected, because the many brain regions that process language also regulate our heart rate, are involved in adjusting the glucose entering our bloodstream that fuels our cells, and drive the change in the flow of chemicals that supports our immune system.

According to Barret: “The power of words is not a metaphor; it’s in our brain wiring.”2 It is a sobering statement and one that Scripture has long taught us through the God-given wisdom of Solomon: “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones” (Prov. 16:24).

1 Ellen G. White, The Ministry of Healing (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1905), p. 83. (Italics supplied.)


Daniel Bruneau

Daniel Bruneau has a Ph.D. in human-computer interaction and is the director for experience design and innovation for Adventist Review Ministries.