After patient RDS (identified only by his initials for privacy) suffered a stroke, he experienced a rare and unusual side effect: when he saw something red, blue, green, or any other chromatic hue, he could not name the object’s color.
Using RDS as a subject, a study publishing on September 3 in the journal Cell Reports looks at how language shapes human thinking. Neuroscientists and philosophers have long wrestled with the interaction between language and thought: do names shape the way we categorize what we perceive, or do they correspond to categories that arise from perception?
Viewing discs containing two colors from the same color category (e.g., two blue shades) or from different categories (e.g., brown and red), RDS was asked to identify same-category colors.
Before his stroke, RDS perceived and named colors normally. After the stroke, an MRI revealed a lesion in the left region of his brain. This lesion apparently severed RDS’s memory of color names from his visual perception of colors and his language system. Yet RDS could still group most colors–even colors he couldn’t name–into categories such as dark or light or as being a mixture of other colors.
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