Language and Spatial Attention: Words Evoke Independent Codes for Objects and Locations


Many common words have spatial associations (e.g., “bird,” “snake,” “jump”, “crawl”) that influence perception at congruent and incongruent locations. For example, “bird” hinders identification of a square at the top of a display. Many researchers have attributed this spatial interference to location-specific perceptual simulations: The word “bird” shifts attention upward and evokes the perceptual representation of a bird, which impairs identification of an unrelated visual target either by visually masking it or by engaging the neural systems necessary for visual perception. However, we report that a large sample of nouns (Experiment 1) and verbs (Experiment 2) of high and low imageability (and visual strength) elicited equivalent spatial interference. Thus, perceptual simulation failed to explain the spatial interference effect. Experiment 3 instead supported an event coding explanation: Target objects are coded for their congruence with both the cue word and its implied location, and conflicting codes interfere with responding.

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