Then researchers asked the participants to indicate whether they saw something or not. When the word they heard matched the object that was being wiped out by the visual noise, the subjects were more likely to report that they did indeed see something than in cases where the wrong word or no word at all was paired with the image.
"Hearing the word for the object that was being suppressed boosted that object into their vision," Lupyan says.
And hearing an unmatched word actually hurt study subjects' chances of seeing an object.
"With the label, you're expecting pumpkin-shaped things," Lupyan says. "When you get a visual input consistent with that expectation, it boosts it into perception. When you get an incorrect label, it further suppresses that."
Experiments have shown that continuous flash suppression interrupts sight so thoroughly that there are no signals in the brain to suggest the invisible objects are perceived, even implicitly.
"Unless they can tell us they saw it, there's nothing to suggest the brain was taking it in at all," Lupyan says. "If language affects performance on a test like this, it indicates that language is influencing vision at a pretty early stage. It's getting really deep into the visual system."
The study demonstrates a deeper connection between language and simple sensory perception than previously thought, and one that makes Lupyan wonder about the extent of language's power. The influence of language may extend to other senses as well.
"A lot of previous work has focused on vision, and we have neglected to examine the role of knowledge and expectations on other modalities, especially smell and taste," Lupyan says. "What I want to see is whether we can really alter threshold abilities," he says. "Does expecting a particular taste f
|Contact: Gary Lupyan|
University of Wisconsin-Madison