ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2018, Vol. 50 ›› Issue (11): 1259-1268.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2018.01259

Previous Articles     Next Articles

Behavioral and ERP study of color categorical perception in proficient and nonproficient bilinguals

Jie LI1,2(),Hu HE2,Baizhou WU2,You HOU1,2,Kang CAO2,Ruhan A2   

  1. 1 Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region Key Laboratory of Psychology, Hohhot 010022, China
    2 School of Educational Science, Inner Mongolia Normal University, Hohhot 010022, China
  • Received:2017-10-27 Published:2018-11-25 Online:2018-09-25
  • Contact: Jie LI


Color categorical perception (CCP: faster or more accurate discrimination of color that straddles a color category boundary) has provided an empirical standard passage of the debate on the relation of language and cognition during the last half-century. A majority of studies suggested that CCP is tightly linked to the language and culture we are born into, which agreed with the Whorf hypothesis in which CCP is language-related and not universal. The participants of previous studies were mainly monolingual, so whether the results of monolingual research can be generalized to bilinguals remains uncertain. There are many Mongolian-Chinese bilinguals in Inner Mongolia. Mongolians divide the blue region of color space into a darker shade called huhe and a lighter shade called qinker, while both lighter blue and darker blue are simply described with the single word Lan in Chinese. To confirm whether the color category in first language (L1) of Mongolian-Chinese bilinguals is influenced by second language, the present study used a behavioral experiment and event-related potential (ERP) to compare the CCP between proficient bilinguals and nonproficient bilinguals.

The first experiment was a behavioral experiment using a visual search task and included 35 proficient bilingual and 33 nonproficient bilingual college students. The stimulus of visual search display appeared, consisting of a ring of 12 squares surrounding the fixation marker. All of the squares were of the same color except for the one that was the target. The target and distractor colors were either from within the same lexical category (e.g., different shades of qinker) or from different lexical categories (e.g., a qinker and a huhe). We explored whether nonproficient Mongolian-Chinese bilinguals show a greater advantage of the CCP effect over proficient Mongolian-Chinese bilinguals due to the endogenous preparation of task switching. To further explore the language learning effect on the perception of brain mechanisms, the second experiment was an ERP experiment with an oddball paradigm. In the ERP experiment involving 15 proficient Mongolian-Chinese bilinguals and 14 nonproficient bilinguals who were set to distinguish dark blue (dark green) and light blue (light green), we examined brain activities by observing the visual mismatch negativity (vMMN) as an electrophysiological index of preattentive change detection, which peaked at approximately 200 ms.

The results of the visual search task showed that the CCP effect of nonproficient bilinguals was significant, while that of proficient bilinguals was not. The present conclusion of the visual search task suggests that the category of L2 influences the category of L1. The ERP study found that nonproficient bilinguals have a greater brain potential amplitude of vMMN than do proficient bilinguals when distinguishing dark blue and light blue or dark green and light green. Considering vMMN as an index of the preattentive process, L2 learning affected the preattentive perceptual processing of bilinguals.

The results of the present study proved the proficiency of Chinese influence on the CCP effect in Mongolian-Chinese bilinguals and indicated that language does affect preattentive perceptual processing, where this procession may be implicit. The bilinguals’ concept of the two languages may interfere with each other, thus supporting Spair-Whorf hypothesis.

Key words: color categorical perception, Mongolian, bilinguals, vMMN, Spair-Whorf hypothesis

CLC Number: