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Photo by Richard Leitner

Photo by Richard Leitner

Eunice Chan was surprised to find boys use more pause words than girls when facing no time limit to speak. The Grade 10 Ancaster High School student was among more than 400 students who entered experiments in the annual Bay Area Science and Engineering Fair held at Mohawk College on the weekend.

So, um, like, we all sometimes speak that way

Ancaster High student finds both sexes use filler words

By Richard Leitner, News Staff

Listening to her friends speak one day, Eunice Chan had, like, um, a theory – that girls use more “filler words” than boys to pause while talking, especially when feeling under pressure.

So the Grade 10 Ancaster High School student put her hypothesis to the test by getting a group of each sex to read an article and respond to questions about it. Half of each group had no time limit to answer and half had just 30 seconds.

She then recorded how many times the respondents used “like, um, uh, yeah, ‘cause and so.”

To Chan’s surprise, she was only partly right: girls who only had 30 seconds indeed used more pause words, but boys did so when they had all the time in the world.

She says research shows teens of all languages use more filler words than adults and seniors, which she suspects reflects that the latter had much stricter learning methods.

“They had to speak in sentences and there was always the threat of being hit with that ruler,” says Chan, one of more than 400 area students who entered experiments in the annual Bay Area Science and Engineering Fair held at Mohawk College on the weekend.

She says research suggests you can cut down on filler words by taking time to think before speaking, although she acknowledges that can be easier said than done.

“For us teens, we use a lot of slang to communicate, so grammar, mistakes, we don’t pay any attention. It also probably contributes to why we use more fillers,” she says.

“It’s the modern age now. We have so many things that could contribute to it because, honestly, people who are two feet away would still text each other.”

It’s the effects of modern technology on the ability to concentrate that piqued Husnain Ahmed’s interest.

To test his theory that phoning and texting impair performance on basic math, reading and reaction exercises, the Grade 8 Ancaster Meadow student enlisted 30 volunteers in three age groups equally divided by sex – 12 to 18 years, 18 to 30 and 30-plus.

They first answered math and reading questions in a quiet setting, then while talking to him on a cell phone, and finally while texting. As predicted, average scores steadily fell over the three tests even though the questions became progressively easier.

The reaction test, which asked participants to grab hold of a ruler dropped through their hand as quickly as possible, got similar results.

Ahmed says he isn’t surprised, given studies showing drivers are four times more likely to have an accident while talking on the phone and 23 times more likely if texting. Even walking across the street takes two seconds longer when texting.

“Basically, in all ways it’s harmful, so that’s what I’m trying to tell people, that they should use cell phones, but at the right moment, and that texting is more affective,” he says.

Kira Fusch’s experiment studied another potential peril, albeit less technological – that hospital workers may be inadvertently spreading harmful bacteria via their clothes after they leave work.

To test her theory that they do, the Grade 10 Ancaster High wore a clean sweater to the movie theatre, intended to replicate a conference-like setting with little movement, and then swabbed the garment afterwards with medical gloves.

She then imprinted samples from the gloves on an agar plate, or Petri dish, counting the bacteria as they grew. The sweater was indeed contaminated.

Fusch says people carry about 400 to 2,050 bacteria colonies on them, ones not life-threatening. The same may not be true for those on hospital workers, though, so she suggests simply washing hands as they leave their shift isn’t enough.

“My recommendation would be that if you move in and out of sensitive areas, that you change clothes every time you do because otherwise you can get the people outside sick,” she says.

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