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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Nov 25;105(47):18221-5. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0809952105. Epub 2008 Nov 17.

Lateralization of categorical perception of color changes with color term acquisition.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 5XH, United Kingdom.


Categorical perception (CP) of color is the faster and more accurate discrimination of two colors from different categories than two colors from the same category, even when same- and different-category chromatic separations are equated. In adults, color CP is lateralized to the left hemisphere (LH), whereas in infants, it is lateralized to the right hemisphere (RH). There is evidence that the LH bias in color CP in adults is due to the influence of color terms in the LH. Here we show that the RH to LH switch in color CP occurs when the words that distinguish the relevant category boundary are learned. A colored target was shown in either the left- or right-visual field on either the same- or different-category background, with equal hue separation for both conditions. The time to initiate an eye movement toward the target from central fixation at target onset was recorded. Color naming and comprehension was assessed. Toddlers were faster at detecting targets on different- than same-category backgrounds and the extent of CP did not vary with level of color term knowledge. However, for toddlers who knew the relevant color terms, the category effect was found only for targets in the RVF (LH), whereas for toddlers learning the color terms, the category effect was found only for targets in the LVF (RH). The findings suggest that lateralization of color CP changes with color term acquisition, and provide evidence for the influence of language on the functional organization of the brain.

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