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As part of learning some languages, people learn to name colors using categorical labels such as “red”, “yellow”, and “green”. Such labeling clearly facilitates communicating about colors, but does it also impact any aspects of color perception? We demonstrate that simply hearing color words improves people’s accuracy in discriminating between simultaneously presented colors in an untimed task. This improvement took the form of an increase in categorical perception: immediately after hearing a cue participants were better able to distinguish named category members from non-members, but the cue had no effect on distinguishing two typical shades of the named color. In contrast verbal labels, arguably more informative cues—a preview of the target color—failed to yield any changes to discrimination accuracy. The finding that color names influence color discrimination accuracy suggests that categorical perception observed in typical discrimination tasks may be due to color representations being augmented by language.
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