Scientists have shown how words have a profound effect and jump start vision. Work in Gary Lupyan, a University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology professor said has demonstrated the predictive process through manipulating the connection between language and vision in the brain. The study shows words deeply effect, even on the first electrical twitches of perception.
Lupyan’s collaborator, Bastien Boutonnet of Leiden University in the Netherlands, showed people dozens of pictures from a group of 10 common objects or animals. Before each picture appeared, participants first heard a word or a nonverbal sound. The study subjects simply decided whether the word or sound matched the image.
The results showed that hearing words versus non-word sounds made a significant difference in a well-known peak in brain activity occurring within one-tenth of a second after the eyes fall on an image.
It’s the first study to show that a word cue, or a cue of any kind, had such a basic effect on the way the brain processes visual information.
Lupyan said that words were ideal for activating categories in the mind. Language allows people a uniquely human way of thinking in generalities. This ability to transcend the specifics and think about the general may be critically important to logic, mathematics, science, and even complex social interactions.
The study is published in The Journal of Neuroscience.