Is categorical perception really verbally mediated perception?


Recent research has argued that categorization is strongly tied to language processing. For example, language (in the form of verbal category labels) has been shown to influence perceptual discriminations of color (Winawer et al., 2007). However, does this imply that categorical perception is essentially verbally mediated perception? The present study extends recent findings in our lab showing that categorical perception can occur even in the absence of overt labels. In particular, we evaluate the degree to which certain interference tasks (verbal, spatial) reduce the effect of learned categorical perception for complex visual stimuli (faces). Contrary to previous findings, our results show that a verbal interference task does not disrupt learned categorical perception effects for faces. Our results are interpreted in light of the ongoing debate about the role of language in categorization. In particular, we suggest that at least a sub-set of categorical perception effects may be effectively “language-free”.

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