Panos Athanasopoulos (Lancaster)

The Whorfian warp: perception through the language glass

Effects of language on higher level decision-making and categorization tasks are well attested. However, recent studies show that such effects may also extend to unconscious, early stages of perceptual integration. Here I present evidence from brain potentials in a colour oddball detection task to show that linguistic modulation of early perception is not only possible, but also highly malleable, as revealed by perceptual changes in bilinguals. I further explore the extent of such malleability by investigating the abstract domain of time. Results from a psychophysical duration estimation task show that language can have a powerful role in transforming humans’ experience of time: switching the experimental language context in the same bilingual individual also unconsciously transforms the way they estimate duration. These results reveal the malleable nature of perception as part of a highly adaptive computational system, in which language can serve both as a top-down and bottom-up source of information.