According to perceptual symbol systems (Barsalou, 1999), sensory-motor simulations underlie the representation of concepts. It follows that sensory-motor phenomena should arise in conceptual processing. Previous studies have shown that switching from one modality to another during perceptual processing incurs a processing cost. If perceptual simulation underlies conceptual processing, then verifying the properties of concepts should exhibit a switching cost as well. For example, verifying a property in the auditory modality (e.g., BLENDER-loud) should be slower after verifying a property in a different modality (e.g., CRANBERRIES-tart) than in the same modality (e.g., LEAVES-rustling). Only words were presented to subjects, and there were no instructions to use imagery. Nevertheless switching modalities incurred a cost, analogous to switching modalities in perception. A second experiment showed that this effect was not due to associative priming between properties in the same modality. These results support the hypothesis that perceptual simulation underlies conceptual processing.

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Psychological Science
Department of Psychology

Pecher, D., Zeelenberg, R., & Barsalou, L. (2003). Verifying Different-modality Properties for Concepts Produces Switching Costs. Psychological Science, 14(2), 119–124. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.t01-1-01429