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Studies show how the use of small words like ‘you’ and ‘I’ can reveal how communication is much more than just the sum of words exchanged. Researchers at the University of Michigan reported the results of an experiment in which they tested the contexts in which Americans use the word ‘you’. In the journal Science , Ariana Orvell, Ethan Kross and Susan A. Gelman, in their paper titled “How ‘you’ makes meaning”, note that ‘you’ is used more often than ‘I’ to cope with negative experiences or to share an insight.

The researchers conducted nine experiments with 2,489 people to understand why people use ‘you’ to not only refer to specific others, but also to reflect on their own experiences. “When people use ‘you’ to make meaning from negative experiences, it allows them to ‘normalise’ the experience and reflect on it from a distance,” said Ms. Orvell, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology and the lead author of the study, in a press statement.

For example, “you win some, you lose some” would indicate that a person has failed in a situation, but using the word ‘you’ would mean that this could happen to anyone. “Or saying that ‘when you are angry, you say and do things that you will most likely regret’ might actually explain a personal situation, but the individual attempts to make it something many people relate to,” Ms. Orvell said.