Language is activated by visual input regardless of memory demands or capacity

Sarah Chabal, Sayuri Hayakawa*, Viorica Marian

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


In the present study, we provide compelling evidence that viewing objects automatically activates linguistic labels and that this activation is not due to task-specific memory demands. In two experiments, eye-movements of English speakers were tracked while they identified a visual target among an array of four images, including a phonological competitor (e.g., flower-flag). Experiment 1 manipulated the capacity to subvocally rehearse the target label by imposing linguistic, spatial, or no working memory load. Experiment 2 manipulated the need to encode target objects by presenting target images either before or concurrently with the search display. While the timing and magnitude of competitor activation varied across conditions, we observed consistent evidence of language activation regardless of the capacity or need to maintain object labels in memory. We propose that language activation is automatic and not contingent upon working memory capacity or demands, and conclude that objects' labels influence visual search.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104994
StatePublished - May 2022


  • Cognitive load
  • Language activation
  • Phonological competition
  • Visual search
  • Visual world paradigm
  • Working memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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