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Categorical facilitation with equally discriminable colors

This study investigates the impact of language on color perception. By categorical facilitation we refer to an aspect of categorical perception, in which the linguistic distinction between categories affects color discrimination beyond the low-level, sensory sensitivity to color differences. According to this idea, discrimination performance for colors that cross a category border should be better than for colors that belong to the same category when controlling for low-level sensitivity. We controlled for sensitivity by using colors that were equally discriminable according to empirically measured discrimination thresholds. To test for categorical facilitation, we measured response times and error rates in a speeded discrimination task for supra-threshold stimuli. Robust categorical facilitation occurred for 5 out of 6 categories with a group of inexperienced observers, namely for pink, orange, yellow, green, and purple. Categorical facilitation was robust against individual variations of categories or the laterality of target presentation. However, contradictory effects occurred in the blue category, most probably reflecting the difficulty to control effects of sensory mechanisms at the green-blue boundary. Moreover, a group of observers who were highly familiar with the discrimination task did not show consistent categorical facilitation the other 5 categories. This trained group had much faster response times than the inexperienced group without any speed-accuracy trade-off. Additional analyses suggest that categorical facilitation occurs when observers pay attention to the categorical distinction, but not when they respond automatically, based on sensory feed-forward information.



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