Friday, July 10, 2009


HOW DOES OUR LANGUAGE SHAPE THE WAY WE THINK? is an essay by Lera Boroditsky, assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience, and symbolic systems at Stanford University.

Her work is featured in the book, "WHAT'S NEXT? Dispatches on the Future of Science" Edited By Max Brockman. For those non-cognitive science people out there, this topic might not have been discussed ad nauseam, and thus you might find this "novel" or "interesting." If so, enjoy!

"To test whether differences in color language lead to differences in color perception, we compared Russian and English speakers' ability to discriminate shades of blue. In Russian there is no single word that covers all the colors that English speakers call 'blue.' Russian makes an obligatory distinction between light blue (goluboy) and dark blue (siniy). Does this distinction mean that siniy blues look more different from goluboy blues to Russian speakers? Indeed, the data say yes. Russian speakers are quicker to distinguish two shades of blue that are called by the different names in Russian (i.e., one being siniy and the other being goluboy) than if the two fall into the same category.

For English speakers, all these shades are still designated by the same word, 'blue,' and there are no comparable differences in reaction time.

Further, the Russian advantage disappears when subjects are asked to perform a verbal interference task (reciting a string of digits) while making color judgments but not when they're asked to perform an equally difficult spatial interference task (keeping a novel visual pattern in memory). The disappearance of the advantage when performing a verbal task shows that language is normally involved in even surprisingly basic perceptual judgments — and that it is language per se that creates this difference in perception between Russian and English speakers.

When Russian speakers are blocked from their normal access to language by a verbal interference task, the differences between Russian and English speakers disappear."
(From Metafilter)

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