Whorf hypothesis is supported in the right visual field but not the left

December 30, 2005
103 (2) 489-494

Abstract

The question of whether language affects perception has been debated largely on the basis of cross-language data, without considering the functional organization of the brain. The nature of this neural organization predicts that, if language affects perception, it should do so more in the right visual field than in the left visual field, an idea unexamined in the debate. Here, we find support for this proposal in lateralized color discrimination tasks. Reaction times to targets in the right visual field were faster when the target and distractor colors had different names; in contrast, reaction times to targets in the left visual field were not affected by the names of the target and distractor colors. Moreover, this pattern was disrupted when participants performed a secondary task that engaged verbal working memory but not a task making comparable demands on spatial working memory. It appears that people view the right (but not the left) half of their visual world through the lens of their native language, providing an unexpected resolution to the language-and-thought debate.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Lera Boroditsky for providing counsel; Paul Aparicio for aid with programming pilot studies; Michael Posner, Christian Fiebach, David Presti, and Michael Webster for their comments on the manuscript; and Steven Shevell for suggesting the title. This work was supported by National Science Foundation Grants 0418404 and 0418283 (to P.K. and T.R.) and National Institutes of Health Grant NS40813 (to R.B.I.).

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Information & Authors

Information

Published in

Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Go to Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Vol. 103 | No. 2
January 10, 2006
PubMed: 16387848

Classifications

Submission history

Published online: December 30, 2005
Published in issue: January 10, 2006

Keywords

  1. categorical perception
  2. color
  3. hemispheric laterality
  4. linguistic relativity

Acknowledgments

We thank Lera Boroditsky for providing counsel; Paul Aparicio for aid with programming pilot studies; Michael Posner, Christian Fiebach, David Presti, and Michael Webster for their comments on the manuscript; and Steven Shevell for suggesting the title. This work was supported by National Science Foundation Grants 0418404 and 0418283 (to P.K. and T.R.) and National Institutes of Health Grant NS40813 (to R.B.I.).

Authors

Affiliations

Aubrey L. Gilbert
Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and Departments of Psychology and Linguistics, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720; Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637; and International Computer Science Institute, 1947 Center Street, Berkeley, CA 94704
Terry Regier
Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and Departments of Psychology and Linguistics, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720; Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637; and International Computer Science Institute, 1947 Center Street, Berkeley, CA 94704
Paul Kay
Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and Departments of Psychology and Linguistics, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720; Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637; and International Computer Science Institute, 1947 Center Street, Berkeley, CA 94704
Richard B. Ivry
Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and Departments of Psychology and Linguistics, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720; Department of Psychology, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL 60637; and International Computer Science Institute, 1947 Center Street, Berkeley, CA 94704

Notes

To whom correspondence may be addressed at: Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute and Department of Psychology, 3210 Tolman Hall #1650, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-1650. E-mail: [email protected]. **To whom correspondence may be addressed. E-mail: [email protected].
Contributed by Paul Kay, November 16, 2005

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    Whorf hypothesis is supported in the right visual field but not the left
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
    • Vol. 103
    • No. 2
    • pp. 249-504

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