Small Elephants and Big Needles: Can Perceptual Information Affect Memory and Judgments about the Meaning of Words?


There is considerable evidence that representations of word meaning are “embodied” and grounded in our perceptual and motor experiences (Barsalou, 2008; Glenberg, 2010). This research has mostly relied on priming and interference procedures, or measuring brain activity. The present study manipulated the perceptual appearance of words, specifically font size, to be congruent or incongruent with an object’s actual size (e.g., elephant presented in a large or small font, respectively). Participants were presented with the words prior to a recognition memory test and property judgment task, in the same session and after a 2-week delay, to see if the perceptual font information would be incorporated into the representations of words to potentially alter participants' memory and judgments. Font size generally did not significantly affect how participants represented and processed the words. These results therefore present a challenge for embodied accounts of semantics, but some potential explanations and issues will be discussed.

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