The Psychological Sciences Colloquium Series presents:
Gary Lupyan, Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin, Madison
3:30pm in BOUS A106
Talk: From perception to symbolic thought: how language augments human cognition
It is a common refrain that language is one of the defining traits of our species. Yet for all its claimed importance, most cognitive scientists work under the assumption that language, while important for communicating pre-existing thoughts, plays a minor if any role in their construction. I will argue that this view is mistaken and that words play a much more central role in creating meaning than is generally acknowledged. Using a wide range of empirical evidence, I will show that even in linguistically savvy adults, the use of language actively modulates “nonverbal” mental processing from low-level perception to higher-level reasoning. On the presented view, some of the unique aspects of human cognition stem from the power of words to flexibly transform mental representations into more categorical states. This view has immediate consequences for understanding the cognitive consequences of learning and using language and for questions concerning linguistic relativity.