Towards understanding the task dependency of embodied language processing: The influence of colour during language-vision interactions

Huettig, F., Guerra, E., & Helo, A. (2020). Towards understanding the task dependency of embodied language processing: The influence of colour during language-vision interactions. Journal of Cognition, 3(1): 41. doi:10.5334/joc.135.
A main challenge for theories of embodied cognition is to understand the task dependency of embodied language processing. One possibility is that perceptual representations (e.g., typical colour of objects mentioned in spoken sentences) are not activated routinely but the influence of perceptual representation emerges only when context strongly supports their involvement in language. To explore this question, we tested the effects of colour representations during language processing in three visual- world eye-tracking experiments. On critical trials, participants listened to sentence- embedded words associated with a prototypical colour (e.g., ‘...spinach...’) while they inspected a visual display with four printed words (Experiment 1), coloured or greyscale line drawings (Experiment 2) and a ‘blank screen’ after a preview of coloured or greyscale line drawings (Experiment 3). Visual context always presented a word/object (e.g., frog) associated with the same prototypical colour (e.g. green) as the spoken target word and three distractors. When hearing spinach participants did not prefer the written word frog compared to other distractor words (Experiment 1). In Experiment 2, colour competitors attracted more overt attention compared to average distractors, but only for the coloured condition and not for greyscale trials. Finally, when the display was removed at the onset of the sentence, and in contrast to the previous blank-screen experiments with semantic competitors, there was no evidence of colour competition in the eye-tracking record (Experiment 3). These results fit best with the notion that the main role of perceptual representations in language processing is to contextualize language in the immediate environment.
Supplementary material
Data files and script
Publication type
Journal article
Publication date
2020

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