Well over half a century ago, Benjamin Lee Whorf [Carroll JB (1956) Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf (MIT Press, Cambridge, MA)] proposed that language affects perception and thought and is used to segment nature, a hypothesis that has since been tested by linguistic and behavioral studies. Although clear Whorfian effects have been found, it has not yet been demonstrated that language influences brain activity associated with perception and/or immediate postperceptual processes (referred hereafter as "perceptual decision"). Here, by using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we show that brain regions mediating language processes participate in neural networks activated by perceptual decision. When subjects performed a perceptual discrimination task on easy-to-name and hard-to-name colored squares, largely overlapping cortical regions were identified, which included areas of the occipital cortex critical for color vision and regions in the bilateral frontal gyrus. Crucially, however, in comparison with hard-to-name colored squares, perceptual discrimination of easy-to-name colors evoked stronger activation in the left posterior superior temporal gyrus and inferior parietal lobule, two regions responsible for word-finding processes, as demonstrated by a localizer experiment that uses an explicit color patch naming task. This finding suggests that the language-processing areas of the brain are directly involved in visual perceptual decision, thus providing neuroimaging support for the Whorf hypothesis.
Figure legend (Click on figure to enlarge it). Brain activations elicited by color perception and explicit color naming. (A and B) Areas showing significant activation during perceptual discrimination of easy-to-name colors in comparison with perceptual discrimination of hard-to-name colors. A and B are lateral view and axial sections, respectively. Two regions of greatest interest are the left posterior superior temporal gyrus (BA 22; x = –57, y = –38, z = 18) and the left inferior parietal lobule (BA 40; x = –61, y = –32, z = 27). (C and D) Percentage BOLD signal change (± SEM) at voxels of maximal difference between the two color-discrimination conditions in the two regions of interest. (E and F) Areas showing significant activation in explicit color naming against color word naming as baseline. E and F are lateral view and axial sections, respectively. The left posterior superior temporal gyrus and the left inferior parietal lobule are critically engaged by the color naming task.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Influence of language on brain activity underlying perceptual decisions
Following up on my Feb. 22 post on the same topic, I pass on the abstract of work by Tan et al., showing that language-processing areas of the brain are directly involved in visual perceptual decisions: