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wilfriedhoujebek
Utrecht, NL
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    Language is not the stuff of thoughts
    Here is the question: can we think without language? A recent piece on Cognitive Daily (one of the many fabulous blogs at scienceblogs.com) mentions an experiment that tries to tackle this classic problem.

    Gary Lupyan's experiment measures to what degree language helps us to categorize similar objects. (Its says 'to think' but is that really the proper word for the mental activity needed in this test?) It shows that recognizing minute differences in novel objects is easier to learn when words, invented for the purpose, are available to help form conceptual groups. But the final differences between people being given words and those who were left in a void, can hardly be called impressive. Conclusion: You do not need languange to think, but it helps.
    Here are some snippets from CognitiveDaily



    "Each object is different, but they all share similar features. We might be tempted to invent just one new word to describe the entire set of objects. Closer inspection reveals that the eight objects on the left share some features which distinguish them from the objects on the right. If we invent one word, "leebish" to categorize the objects on the left, and another, "grecious," to categorize those on the right, will people be better at distinguishing between the two types of objects?"

    "Lupyan's team showed the objects to 48 college students, asking them to imagine that these objects were aliens from a faraway planet. The students themselves were "explorers," studying these aliens. Their job was to figure out which aliens were approachable, and which should be avoided. "




    "The students who saw the labels learned the difference between approachable and unapproachable aliens significantly faster than students who didn't see the labels — even though the labels gave them no information that wasn't available in the unlabeled condition. During the testing session, 8 new aliens that hadn't been seen before (but were clearly members of one of the categories) were introduced. Once again, the students who had seen the labels performed significantly better (no labels were present during the testing session). "

    Tue, Jan 8, 2008  Permanent link

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