A Taste of Words: Linguistic Context and Perceptual Simulation Predict the Modality of Words


should be sent to Max M. Louwerse, Department of Psychology/Institute for Intelligent Systems, University of Memphis, Psychology Building, Memphis, TN 38152. E-mail: mlouwerse@memphis.edu


Previous studies have shown that object properties are processed faster when they follow properties from the same perceptual modality than properties from different modalities. These findings suggest that language activates sensorimotor processes, which, according to those studies, can only be explained by a modal account of cognition. The current paper shows how a statistical linguistic approach of word co-occurrences can also reliably predict the category of perceptual modality a word belongs to (auditory, olfactory–gustatory, visual–haptic), even though the statistical linguistic approach is less precise than the modal approach (auditory, gustatory, haptic, olfactory, visual). Moreover, the statistical linguistic approach is compared with the modal embodied approach in an experiment in which participants verify properties that share or shift modalities. Response times suggest that fast responses can best be explained by the linguistic account, whereas slower responses can best be explained by the embodied account. These results provide further evidence for the theory that conceptual processing is both linguistic and embodied, whereby less precise linguistic processes precede precise simulation processes.