Working memory for object concepts relies on both linguistic and simulation information

AbstractThe linguistic-simulation approach to cognition predicts that language can enable more efficient conceptual processing than sensorimotor-affective simulations of concepts. We proposed that this has implications for working memory, whereby use of linguistic labels enables more efficient representation of concepts in a limited-capacity store than representation via full sensorimotor simulation. In two pre-registered experiments, we asked participants to remember sequences of real-world objects, and used articulatory suppression to selectively block access to linguistic information, which we predicted would impair accuracy and latency of performance in an object memory recognition task. We found that blocking access to language at encoding impaired memory performance, but blocking access at retrieval unexpectedly facilitated speed of responding. These results suggest that working memory for object concepts normally relies on language but people can flexibly adapt their memory strategies when language is unavailable. Moreover, our data suggest that a sequence of up to 10 object concepts can be held in working memory when relying on sensorimotor information alone, but this capacity increases when linguistic labels are available.

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