The role of visual representations during language processing remains unclear: They could be activated as a necessary part of the comprehension process, or they could be less crucial and influence performance in a task-dependent manner. In the present experiments, participants read sentences about an object. The sentences implied that the object had a specific shape or orientation. They then either named a picture of that object (Experiments 1 and 3) or decided whether the object had been mentioned in the sentence (Experiment 2). Orientation information did not reliably influence performance in any of the experiments. Shape representations influenced performance most strongly when participants were asked to compare a sentence with a picture or when they were explicitly asked to use mental imagery while reading the sentences. Thus, in contrast to previous claims, implied visual information often does not contribute substantially to the comprehension process during normal reading.
We thank Ronald Fisher and John Nagengast for technical support, and we thank the research assistants of our lab for testing some of the participants and measuring speech onsets. We are grateful to Diane Pecher for providing the experimental materials and suggesting the Bayesian analyses, and we thank her and an anonymous reviewer for their comments.
Additional supporting material may be found at http://pss.sagepub.com/content/by/supplemental-data