Spatial categories in language and thought: Evidence for categorical perception at the cardinal axes

AbstractThe relationship between linguistic and nonlinguistic spatial categories has been characterized in terms of two contrasting positions. One position suggests, naturally enough, a close correspondence between the two sets of categories. A second position suggests a dissociation, in which the boundaries between nonlinguistic categories function as the prototypes for linguistic categories. The latter account predicts categorical perception (CP)—enhanced discrimination at category boundaries—at the horizontal and vertical axes, yet this prediction has not been tested directly. We tested it in three experiments. In perceptual and memory tasks, cross-axis locations were discriminated better than within-axis locations at both axes, indicating CP. These results suggest that the axes indeed serve as nonlinguistic category boundaries, consistent with the dissociation account. However, findings from a supplemental naming task revealed that these boundaries are also marked linguistically, implying some correspondence between linguistic and nonlinguistic spatial categories and a potential reconciliation of the competing accounts.

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