To peek and to peer: "visual" verb meanings are largely unaffected by congenital blindness


Congenitally blind adults learn about the world through touch, audition, and language, but not through vision. What consequences does this atypical sensory experience have for blind adults' concepts of actions and events, especially for features related to vision? One way to assess the structure of concepts is to construct similarity matrices. We elicited similarity judgements for pairs of verbs describing manner of motion (e.g. "to spin", "to strut", n=15), perceptual experience (e.g. "to peek", "to peer", n=60), or perceptible qualities (e.g. "to shimmer", "to shine", n=45). Some of the verbs described qualities or experiences linked to vision. Similarity judgements were acquired from sighted (n=22), late blind (n=9) and congenitally blind (n=24) participants. The similarity ratings for all verb categories, including "visual" verbs, were remarkably similar across groups (all r>.85); cluster analyses on similarity ratings produces nearly identical clusters. These results suggest that: 1) verb meanings are largely unaffected by congenital blindness 2) the sensory modality of experience has little effect on conceptual structure.

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