Self-directed speech alters visual processing


A major part of learning a language is learning connections between spoken words and their referents in the world. An open question concerns the consequence this learning has for cognition and perception. According to the label feedback hy-pothesis (Lupyan, 2007), processing a verbal label can change ongoing perceptual processing, e.g., actually hearing “chair” compared to simply thinking about a chair temporarily makes the visual system a better chair detector. Here, we test wheth-er engaging in a non-communicative verbal act—speaking to oneself—also affects visual processing. Participants searched for common objects, sometimes being asked to speak the tar-get’s name aloud. Speaking facilitated search, but only when there was a strong association between the name and the vis-ual target. Speaking appeared to hurt performance when there was even a slight discrepancy between the name and the tar-get. Together these results speak to the power of words to evoke associated visual information.

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