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    Was Doing Versus Did - The Verbs You Use Influence Your Behavior
    By News Staff | March 10th 2009 12:00 AM | 3 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    If you want to perform at your peak, you should carefully consider how you discuss your past actions. In a new study in Psychological Science, psychologists William Hart of the University of Florida and Dolores AlbarracÃn from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reveal that the way a statement is phrased (and specifically, how the verbs are used), affects our memory of an event being described and may also influence our behavior.

    In these experiments, a group of volunteers were interrupted prior to finishing a word game and were then asked to describe their behavior using the imperfective (e.g., I was solving word puzzles) or perfective (e.g., I solved word puzzles) aspect. The volunteers then completed a memory test (for the word game) or a word game which was similar to the first one they had worked on.

    It turns out, the volunteers who had described their behavior using the imperfective aspect were able to recall more specific details of their experience compared to volunteers who had described their behavior in the perfective aspect. The volunteers writing in the imperfective aspect also performed better on the second word game and were more willing to complete the task than did volunteers who used the perfective to describe their experience.

    In the article "What I Was Doing Versus What I Did", the authors surmise that when we think about our past behavior in the imperfective (e.g. what we were doing), we tend to imagine that behavior as ongoing (and not completed yet). This enables us to easily think about what went into that behavior and may help us improve performance on similar tasks in the future.

    The authors note that these findings may be relevant to behavioral therapy. They suggest that "decreasing the frequency of unhealthy behaviors might be facilitated by discussing these behaviors in terms of what I did. In contrast, increasing the frequency of healthy behaviors might be facilitated by discussing these behaviors in terms of what I was doing."

    Comments

    logicman
    Thank you for posting this. I would suggest that the verb aspect effect is a memory-recency / memory-storage effect. Personal memories recall 'what I did' as being a long time ago, but 'what I was doing' was 'making a cup of coffee', and that was but moments ago. Perhaps verb aspect is a useful survival stratagem to label sub-categorised memories as they are being stored, in greater or lesser richness of detail, according to recency / futurity : a 'memory as a filter for extraneous detail' model. did < had been doing < have been doing < was doing < am doing > will do > will be doing > will have been doing or something broadly similar in scope. The memories are sorted for immediate relevancy, with a progressive filtering out of long - term irrelevancy. If 'accuracy' is replaced by 'relevancy', then this classic paper is at least generally supportive of the filter model: "[devices for] increasing the accuracy of our judgments. The three most important of these devices are (a) to make relative rather than absolute judgments.; or, if that is not possible, (b) to increase the number of dimensions along which the stimuli can differ; or (c) to arrange the task in such a way that we make a sequence of several absolute judgments in a row. " George A. Miller (1956)
    Hi,
    using the "..ing" form of a verb to generate more action is something I have used for many years in my sales work. My simplistic understanding is that it forms a moving (as distinct from static) image in the brain and is much more likely to generate action in the receiver of the message.
    Greg

    logicman
    ... [verb aspect with -ing]   forms a moving (as distinct from static) image in the brain and is
    much more likely to generate action in the receiver of the message.
    Greg:  in broad, I agree with your view.  However, in detail   I would suggest that verb aspect has a priming effect of making the mind more receptive to the grasp of any dynamic concept, i.e. any concept about forms of action and activity.