Synchronising the Senses: The Impact of Embodied Cognition on Communication, Explored in the Domain of Colour
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Colour terms divide the visual spectrum into categorical concepts. Since Berlin & Kay’s (1969) cross-cultural study of colour terms, there has been debate about the extent to which these concepts are constrained by innate biases from perceptual hardware and the environment. This study shows that concepts can affect perception in the domain of colour (e.g., reading the word ‘yellow’ causes us to see yellow). An experiment was run in which participants were asked to adjust the font colour of colour terms to appear grey. In fact, participants adjusted the font colour to perceptually oppose the colour the word described (e.g., the word ‘yellow’ was adjusted to be blue). This is interpreted as over-compensating for a perceptual activation caused by the comprehension of the word. These results are used to argue that cross-cultural patterns in colour term systems do not necessarily imply strong innate biases. It is argued that the most efficient way of converging on, maintaining and transferring a conceptual system is for shared categories to re-organise perception. This re-organisation will converge to optimally fit the perceptual and environmental biases. Therefore, an Embodied, Relativist explanation of cross-cultural patterns is supported. Furthermore, if the comprehension of language involves the activation of perceptual representations, then there will be a communicative pressure to reduce perceptual differences between speakers.