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Two languages, two minds: Flexible cognitive processing driven by language of operation

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Panos Athanasopoulos, Dr Alina SchartnerORCiD, Dr Nick Riches



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).


We make sense of objects and events around us by classifying them into identifiable categories. The extent to which language affects this process has been the focus of a long-standing debate: Do different languages cause their speakers to behave differently? Here, we show that fluent German-English bilinguals categorize motion events according to the grammatical constraints of the language in which they operate. First, as predicted from cross-linguistic differences in motion encoding, participants functioning in a German testing context prefer to match events on the basis of motion completion to a greater extent than participants in an English context. Second, when participants suffer verbal interference in English, their categorization behavior is congruent with that predicted for German and when we switch the language of interference to German, their categorization becomes congruent with that predicted for English. These findings show that language effects on cognition are context-bound and transient, revealing unprecedented levels of malleability in human cognition.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Athanasopoulos P, Bylund E, Montero-Melis G, Damjanovic L, Schartner A, Kibbe A, Riches N, Thierry G

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Psychological Science

Year: 2015

Volume: 26

Issue: 4

Pages: 518-526

Print publication date: 13/04/2015

Online publication date: 06/03/2015

Acceptance date: 17/12/2014

Date deposited: 11/03/2015

ISSN (print): 0956-7976

ISSN (electronic): 1467-9280

Publisher: Sage Publications


DOI: 10.1177/0956797614567509

PubMed id: 25749698


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