"You" speaks to me: Effects of generic-you in creating resonance between people and ideas

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Creating resonance between people and ideas is a central goal of communication. Historically, attempts to understand the factors that promote resonance have focused on altering the content of a message. Here we identify an additional route to evoking resonance that is embedded in the structure of language: The generic use of the word "you" (e.g., "You can't understand someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes"). Using crowd-sourced data from the Amazon Kindle application, we demonstrate that passages that people highlighted-collectively, over a quarter of a million times-were substantially more likely to contain genericyou compared to yoked passages that they did not highlight. We also demonstrate in four experiments (n = 1,900) that ideas expressed with generic-you increased resonance. These findings illustrate how a subtle shift in language establishes a powerful sense of connection between people and ideas.

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Orvell, A., Kross, E., & Gelman, S. A. (2020). “You” speaks to me: Effects of generic-you in creating resonance between people and ideas. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 117(49), 31038–31045. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2010939117

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