Can hearing a word change what one sees? Although visual sensitivity is known to be enhanced by attending to the location of the target, perceptual enhancements of following cues to the identity of an object have been difficult to find. Here, we show that perceptual sensitivity is enhanced by verbal, but not visual cues.Read the article at PLoS ONE
Participants completed an object detection task in which they made an object-presence or -absence decision to briefly-presented letters. Hearing the letter name prior to the detection task increased perceptual sensitivity. A visual cue in the form of a preview of the to-be-detected letter did not. Follow-up experiments found that the auditory cuing effect was specific to validly cued stimuli. The magnitude of the cuing effect positively correlated with an individual measure of vividness of mental imagery; introducing uncertainty into the position of the stimulus did not reduce the magnitude of the cuing effect, but eliminated the correlation with mental imagery.
Hearing a word made otherwise invisible objects visible. Interestingly, seeing a preview of the target stimulus did not similarly enhance detection of the target. These results are compatible with an account in which auditory verbal labels modulate lower-level visual processing. The findings show that a verbal cue in the form of hearing a word can influence even the most elementary visual processing and inform our understanding of how language affects perception.