How words can trick us into seeing things that aren’t there

In a recent paper, Monique Flecken and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics and the University of Zurich show how words can make people think they saw something, that actually wasn’t there. In a series of psycholinguistic experiments, it was found that presenting volunteers with words such as “walker”, which express human motion, increases the chances of them reporting the presence of human figures in noisy displays, not only when a target figure is presented (masked in noise) but even when no figure is actually presented. This indicates a potentially powerful role for language in shaping our interpretation of the visual world. Flecken and her colleagues are now analysing brain-imaging data that will help them to localise the interface between language and vision.

Link to a news item on BNR news radio (in Dutch)

Link to the news item on the UvA website (in Dutch)