Flecken, M., & Van Bergen, G. (2016). The English can’t stand the bottle like the Dutch: ERPs show an effect of language on object perception. Poster presented at the Eighth Annual Meeting of the Society for the Neurobiology of Language (SNL 2016), London.
Previous research shows that linguistic labels affect perception, reflected in modulations of ERP components (P1/N1/P300; Thierry et al. 2009; Boutonnet et al. 2013). Here, we go beyond terminology to examine how perception is influenced by argument features of verbs: Dutch uses posture verbs (staan/liggen ‘stand/lie’) to describe locations of objects, encoding object position (Lemmens 2002). In contrast, position is not obligatorily encoded in English (‘there is a cup on the table’). We ask, whether this difference is reflected in object perception, by recording ERPs in English and Dutch participants during a picture-matching task. Dutch (N=28) and English (N=26) participants saw sequentially presented pairs of pictures (N=400), each showing an object on a surface (e.g., a suitcase on a table). Each object (N=10) was manipulated across two spatial dimensions, i.e., rotated 90 degrees along the horizontal or the vertical axis. The former manipulation reflects the obligatorily encoded position distinction in Dutch verbs. Participants pressed a button only when they saw a different object in the second picture. We used an oddball design with four conditions: (a) Object Match (frequent condition, 70% of trials), (b) Object Mismatch (response oddball, 10%), (c) Orientation Mismatch (control distracter oddball, 10%), and (d) Position Mismatch (critical distracter oddball, 10%). ERPs were time-locked to the onset of the second picture. Analyses revealed a significant Language by Condition interaction on amplitudes of an early component associated with automatic and prelexical perceptual discrimination processes (the N100, the earliest negative going peak; cf. Boutonnet et al. 2013): Whereas an enhanced N100 was obtained for the response condition in both groups, Position Mismatch oddballs elicited an N100 modulation only in Dutch participants. In sum, Dutch participants displayed increased selective attention to verbally encoded object features, before this information can be accessed lexically, adding to the evidence that language affects our perception of the world. References: Boutonnet, B., Dering, B., Vinas-Guasch, N., & Thierry. G. (2013). Seeing objects through the language glass. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 25 (10), 1702-1710. Lemmens, M. (2002). The semantic network of Dutch posture verbs. In J. Newman (Ed.), The linguistics of sitting,standing and lying (pp 103–139). Amsterdam: John Benjamins. Thierry, G., Athanasopoulos, P., Wiggett, A., Dering, B., & Kuipers, JR. (2009). Unconscious effects of language-specific terminology on pre-attentive color perception. PNAS, 106 (11), 4567–4570.