Index – Science Technology – Knowledge of language changes memory
Science is trying to learn more about how language affects memory. For example, a previous experiment found that selecting a character in a group with similar item names is significantly slower—for example, you have to choose the cup from the group of three cups. In such a case, a kind of phonetic competition occurs while remembering words, and arranging them requires additional energy and time.
New research from Northwestern University takes this experiment to a new level by investigating how speaking multiple languages changes this phenomenon. It was assumed that those with greater language skills had to sort as many similar words as possible in their heads, so recognition and recall were thought to take longer as well.
During the experiment, 84 people who understood both Spanish and English and 42 native English speakers were examined and compared. Participants had to choose from a set of images the one whose name was mentioned, while eye-tracking technology monitored their gaze. They found that people regularly looked at objects with similar names, and it was confirmed that multilingual people also copied similar names into the corpus across languages.
It was also confirmed that phonetic competition increases with the level of linguistic knowledge – those who knew less Spanish reacted less when the name of something was similar to its name in English. The latter was also the case when, during the experiment, they also looked at the embedded picture in the foreign language – here the researchers concluded that inhibition hindered their subsequent recognition, but since their investigation was not aimed at that, they did not engage with the then.
Horse sausage or local bus
There was another side to the coin: in one experiment, the task was memorization and the names of visual shapes had to be repeated. Phonological competition was an advantage here, as people looked at pictures with similar names multiple times, so they were later able to remember them more efficiently. Multilingual speakers were particularly effective at this task, and were more successful at remembering things with similar names in the other language as well.
The researchers concluded from the results that language skills have a serious impact on memory. As they write, memory and language, which are independent functions of thinking, have been shown to be closely linked. Individual differences, which can also be perceived in language skills, lead to significant differences in what a person sees and how they later remember it. This has major implications for clinical, educational and legal practice. Regarding the latter, they pointed to research that found differences related to the languages used in crime witness reports. Last but not least, it is suggested that synonyms and visual memorization can make language learning more effective.