Abstract images and words can convey the same meaning


Kuipers JR, Jones MW & Thierry G (2018) Abstract images and words can convey the same meaning. Scientific Reports, 8 (1), Art. No.: 7190.

Intuitively, deriving meaning from an abstract image is a uniquely human, idiosyncratic experience. Here we show that, despite having no universally recognised lexical association, abstract images spontaneously elicit specific concepts conveyed by words, with a consistency akin to that of concrete images. We presented a group of naïve participants with abstract picture–word pairs construed as ‘related’ or ‘unrelated’ according to a preliminary norming procedure conducted with different participants. Surprisingly, the naïve participants with no prior exposure to the abstract images or any hints regarding their possible meaning, displayed a reaction time priming effect for ‘related’ versus ‘unrelated’ picture-word pairs. Critically, this behavioural priming effect, and an associated decrease in N400 mean amplitude indexing semantic priming, both correlated significantly with the degree of relatedness established in the preliminary norming procedure. Given that ratings and electrophysiological measures were obtained in different groups of individuals, our results show that abstract images evoke consistent meaning across observers, as has been shown in the case of music.

Scientific Reports: Volume 8, Issue 1

Publication date31/05/2018
Publication date online31/05/2018
Date accepted by journal23/04/2018
PublisherSpringer Nature


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