A mighty controversy is sweeping the nation – but science can help set the record straight.
I’m referring, of course, to the Minion toys that are currently included in McDonald’s Happy Meals for kids – and some parents are not happy about what they think one of them says.
Minions – the stars of Universal Pictures’ new film of the same title – look like eggs with very big eyes, a mouth, and small arms and legs. Think Mr. Potato Head in yellow, with denim overalls. They speak a made-up language called “Minionese,” but some people say one of the Minion toys says “What The ——” (a curse word that rhymes with truck.)
Chief Bioscientist at the Franklin Institute Jayatri Das argues that brain science can exonerate the Minion toy.
“It really doesn’t sound like anything,” she said. But – since the sounds are made by a creature with a little human-like face, humans perceive the sounds as language.
“We assume that sounds coming from a face mean something. So now your brain wants to assign meaning to it,” said Das. She added that the brain then pulls on past experiences to assign meaning to something that doesn’t make any sense.
“So you listen to those three fast syllables, and if expressing frustration using those words is part of your vocabulary, that tone brings back that experience.”
Das explained that the brain constantly pulls on past experiences to create meaning for new information by attaching it to something that already means something to you. (Listening to this great audio illusion taped at the Franklin Institute will make that point perfectly.)
And if a person listens to the Minion toy already expecting to hear it say “What the –” they will hear that.
(Could one also argue that this is a case of pareidolia, where the brain takes random stimuli and assigns meaning to them? Take a listen here)
So, the Minion toy is not cursing, Das concluded. “It’s all in our heads, it probably says more about you than it does about the toy.”