Seeing Objects Through the Language Glass

J Cogn Neurosci. 2013 Oct;25(10):1702-10. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00415. Epub 2013 May 6.

Abstract

Recent streams of research support the Whorfian hypothesis according to which language affects one's perception of the world. However, studies of object categorization in different languages have heavily relied on behavioral measures that are fuzzy and inconsistent. Here, we provide the first electrophysiological evidence for unconscious effects of language terminology on object perception. Whereas English has two words for cup and mug, Spanish labels those two objects with the word "taza." We tested native speakers of Spanish and English in an object detection task using a visual oddball paradigm, while measuring event-related brain potentials. The early deviant-related negativity elicited by deviant stimuli was greater in English than in Spanish participants. This effect, which relates to the existence of two labels in English versus one in Spanish, substantiates the neurophysiological evidence that language-specific terminology affects object categorization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Language*
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reaction Time
  • Young Adult