Cognitive Processing

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 205–208 | Cite as

Spatial language and the psychological reality of schematization

  • Kevin J. Holmes
  • Phillip Wolff
Short Report


Although the representations underlying spatial language are often assumed to be schematic in nature, empirical evidence for a schematic format of representation is lacking. In this research, we investigate the psychological reality of such a format, using simulated motion during scene processing—previously linked to schematization—as a diagnostic. One group of participants wrote a verbal description of a scene and then completed a change detection task assessing simulated motion, while another group completed only the latter task. We expected that effects of simulated motion would be stronger following language use than not, and specifically following the use of spatial, relative to non-spatial, language. Both predictions were supported. Further, the effect of language was scene independent, suggesting that language may encourage a general mode of schematic construal. The study and its findings illustrate a novel approach to examining the perceptual properties of mental representations.


Spatial language Schematization Mental simulation Language–thought interface 


  1. Freyd JJ, Pantzer TM, Cheng JL (1988) Representing statics as forces in equilibrium. J Exp Psychol Gen 117:395–407PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Gentner D, Rattermann MJ (1991) Language and the career of similarity. In: Gelman SA, Byrnes JP (eds) Perspectives on thought and language: interrelations in development. Cambridge University Press, London, pp 225–277CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Gleitman L, Papafragou A (2005) Language and thought. In: Holyoak K, Morrison B (eds) Cambridge handbook of thinking and reasoning. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 633–661Google Scholar
  4. Holmes KJ, Wolff P (2010) Simulation from schematics: dorsal stream processing and the perception of implied motion. In: Catrambone R, Ohlsson S (eds) Proceedings of the 32nd annual conference of the cognitive science society. Cognitive Science Society, Austin, pp 2704–2709Google Scholar
  5. Holmes KJ, Wolff P (2013) Schematic is dynamic: realism, construal, and simulated motion (in preparation)Google Scholar
  6. Landau B, Jackendoff R (1993) “What” and “where” in spatial language and spatial cognition. Behav Brain Sci 16:217–265CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Loewenstein J, Gentner D (2005) Relational language and the development of relational mapping. Cogn Psychol 50:315–353PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Pinker S (2007) The stuff of thought: language as a window into human nature. Penguin Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Slobin DI (1996) From “thought and language” to “thinking for speaking”. In: Gumperz J, Levinson SC (eds) Rethinking linguistic relativity. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 70–96Google Scholar
  10. Talmy L (1983) How language structures space. In: Pick H, Acredolo L (eds) Spatial orientation: theory, research, and, application. Plenum Press, New York, pp 225–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Wolff P, Holmes KJ (2011) Linguistic relativity. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Cogn Sci 2:253–265CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Wolff P, Malt BC (2010) The language–thought interface: an introduction. In: Malt BC, Wolff P (eds) Words and the mind: how words capture human experience. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 3–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Zwaan RA, Madden CJ (2005) Embodied sentence comprehension. In: Pecher D, Zwaan R (eds) Grounding cognition: the role of perception and action in memory, language, and thought. Cambridge University Press, New York, pp 224–245CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Marta Olivetti Belardinelli and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.Department of LinguisticsUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA

Personalised recommendations