Unconscious effects of language-specific terminology on preattentive color perception



Thierry G, Athanasopoulos P, Wiggett A, Dering B & Kuipers JR (2009) Unconscious effects of language-specific terminology on preattentive color perception. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (11), pp. 4567-4570.

It is now established that native language affects one's perception of the world. However, it is unknown whether this effect is merely driven by conscious, language-based evaluation of the environment or whether it reflects fundamental differences in perceptual processing between individuals speaking different languages. Using brain potentials, we demonstrate that the existence in Greek of 2 color terms -- ghalazio and ble -- distinguishing light and dark blue leads to greater and faster perceptual discrimination of these colors in native speakers of Greek than in native speakers of English. The visual mismatch negativity, an index of automatic and preattentive change detection, was similar for blue and green deviant stimuli during a color oddball detection task in English participants, but it was significantly larger for blue than green deviant stimuli in native speakers of Greek. These findings establish an implicit effect of language-specific terminology on human color perception.

cognition; cultural differences; event-related potentials; linguistic relativity; visual mismatch negativity

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: Volume 106, Issue 11

Publication date17/03/2009
PublisherNational Academy of Sciences

People (2)


Dr Benjamin Dering

Dr Benjamin Dering

Lecturer, Psychology

Dr Jan Rouke Kuipers

Dr Jan Rouke Kuipers

Lecturer in Psychology, Psychology