The interplay of language and visual perception in working memory
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Description: How do perception and language interact to form the representations that guide our thoughts and actions over the short-term? Here, we provide a first examination of this question by investigating the role of verbal labels in a continuous visual working memory (WM) task. Across four experiments, participants retained in memory the continuous color of a set of dots which were presented sequentially (Experiments 1-3) or simultaneously (Experiment 4). At test, they reproduced the colors of all dots using a color wheel. During stimulus presentation participants were required to either label the colors (color labeling) or to repeat “bababa” aloud (articulatory suppression), hence prompting or preventing verbal labeling, respectively. We tested four competing hypotheses of the labeling effect: (1) labeling generates a verbal representation that overshadows the visual representation; (2) labeling yields a verbal representation in addition to the visual one; (3) the labels function as a retrieval cue, adding distinctiveness to items in memory; and (4) labels activate visual categorical representations in long-term memory. Collectively, our experiments show that labeling does not overshadow the visual input; it augments it. Mixture modeling showed that labeling increased the quantity and quality of information in WM. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that labeling activates visual long-term categorical representations thereby reducing the noise in the internal representations of the visual stimuli in WM.