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Does the language we use to segment the body, shape the way we perceive it? A study of tactile perceptual distortions.

Knight, Frances Le Cornu and Bremner, Andrew J. and Cowie, Dorothy (2019) 'Does the language we use to segment the body, shape the way we perceive it? A study of tactile perceptual distortions.', Cognition., 197 . p. 104127.


Tactile perception is referenced to, and modulated by, body parts and their boundaries. For example, tactile distances presented over the wrist are perceptually elongated relative to those presented within the hand or arm. This phenomenon is argued to result from a segmentation of tactile space according to body parts and their boundaries, i.e., touches presented within a body part are perceived as being more similar, and therefore closer together, whereas those that straddle a body part boundary (e.g. presented across two body parts) are perceived as more distinct and thus further apart. We tested the hypothesis that language shapes this effect by providing consolidatory labels for categories and boundaries, as it does in other perceptual domains. We examined the perceptual elongation of distance over the wrist in a group of Croatian adults (n = 37) whose first language does not differentiate between hand and arm at the wrist in common noun terms (instead, the Croatian word “ruka” encompasses the entire limb). Croatian adults, like UK adults reported in a previous study (Le Cornu Knight, Longo, & Bremner, 2014), perceived distances presented proximodistally over the wrist boundary as longer than those presented mediolaterally, whereas the reverse was found for both the hand and the arm. This pattern of results was remained when Croatian participants were split into two groups of inexperienced or proficient English-language speakers. This is striking evidence that body part boundaries consistently modulate tactile perception, despite differences in the linguistic distinctions of such body parts made by one's first language.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:© 2019 This manuscript version is made available under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 license
Date accepted:04 November 2019
Date deposited:07 January 2020
Date of first online publication:28 December 2019
Date first made open access:28 December 2020

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