Research Article: Color adaptation induced from linguistic description of color

Date Published: March 30, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Liling Zheng, Ping Huang, Xiao Zhong, Tianfeng Li, Lei Mo, Philip Allen.


Recent theories propose that language comprehension can influence perception at the low level of perceptual system. Here, we used an adaptation paradigm to test whether processing language caused color adaptation in the visual system. After prolonged exposure to a color linguistic context, which depicted red, green, or non-specific color scenes, participants immediately performed a color detection task, indicating whether they saw a green color square in the middle of a white screen or not. We found that participants were more likely to perceive the green color square after listening to discourses denoting red compared to discourses denoting green or conveying non-specific color information, revealing that language comprehension caused an adaptation aftereffect at the perceptual level. Therefore, semantic representation of color may have a common neural substrate with color perception. These results are in line with the simulation view of embodied language comprehension theory, which predicts that processing language reactivates the sensorimotor systems that are engaged during real experience.

Partial Text

Two families of theories have proposed contrasting ways of how language is processed in the brain in relation to the sensorimotor systems. In the traditional symbolic view, language processing is based on abstract, amodal symbols [1,2,3], and people gain the meaning of language through the relations among symbols. From this point of view, the mind is an abstract information processor and sensorimotor systems are not relevant to language processing. In contrast, theories of embodied language comprehension propose a direct link between language and sensorimotor systems. They propose that language is understood by constructing mental simulations of the objects and events being described, and these simulations involve the re-activation of sensory, motor, and affective systems that are engaged during real experience [4,5,6,7]. In this account, language processing recruits, to some extent, sensorimotor systems. Thus, embodied semantics predict that comprehension should interact with perception processing, as they recruit the same sensorimotor system.

First, we calculated the mean accuracy and median reaction times of each test stimulus, as Tables 2 and 3 show. Table 4 shows the mean accuracy for each level of transparency. Considering the limited number of each test stimulus, further analysis was carried out over all the test stimuli within each condition.

This study is the first one to make use of color aftereffect to investigate the influence of language comprehension on color perception within the embodied cognition framework. Sentences denoting color-related information were followed by a color square detection task. We found that listening to discourses denoting a certain color (red) improved the sensitivity to its complementary color (green) and also influenced the internal decision criterion, but not the speed in performing a color detection task. The results found here were consistent with a previous study done by Meteyard, Bahrami, & Vigliocco [27], but for motion language instead of color language.