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Exploring the automaticity of language-perception interactions: Effects of attention and awareness

Francken, J. C., Meijs, E. L., Hagoort, P., van Gaal, S., & de Lange, F. P. (2015). Exploring the automaticity of language-perception interactions: Effects of attention and awareness. Scientific Reports, 5: 17725. doi:10.1038/srep17725.
Previous studies have shown that language can modulate visual perception, by biasing and/ or enhancing perceptual performance. However, it is still debated where in the brain visual and linguistic information are integrated, and whether the effects of language on perception are automatic and persist even in the absence of awareness of the linguistic material. Here, we aimed to explore the automaticity of language-perception interactions and the neural loci of these interactions in an fMRI study. Participants engaged in a visual motion discrimination task (upward or downward moving dots). Before each trial, a word prime was briefly presented that implied upward or downward motion (e.g., “rise”, “fall”). These word primes strongly influenced behavior: congruent motion words sped up reaction times and improved performance relative to incongruent motion words. Neural congruency effects were only observed in the left middle temporal gyrus, showing higher activity for congruent compared to incongruent conditions. This suggests that higherlevel conceptual areas rather than sensory areas are the locus of language-perception interactions. When motion words were rendered unaware by means of masking, they still affected visual motion perception, suggesting that language-perception interactions may rely on automatic feed-forward integration of perceptual and semantic material in language areas of the brain.
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The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

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