[PS-3.21] Do we see things better when we know grammar?

Poletiek, F. , van de Velde, M. . & Riksen, J. .

Leiden University, Netherlands

Language affects perception. But how? Recent findings (Boutonnet & Lupyan, 2015; Bocanegra, Poletiek & Zwaan, in preparation) suggest a dissociation between perception that is mediated as compared to not mediated by language. One explanation is that language -that is combinatorial in nature- stresses the separate features of objects (Soto & Ashby, 2015). Our study investigated the effect of combinatorial (two words) and non-combinatorial (one word) labels on the perceptual separation of features in visual recognition.
Participants (n= 28) were trained to categorize meaningless objects in one of 4 categories, which were based on two dimensions: shape and height. Each category had either a one word name (e.g., poka); or a two words name reflecting its features (e.g., po gu and ti gu). They then were tested on new objects . Combinatorial labels enhanced categorization performance as compared to non-combinatorial labels. In particular, the combinatorial labels were most helpful to categorize features for which no natural language word exists (here: shape). This suggests that language, by decomposing objects into parts named individually, might drive dimension separation in vision as well.