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New study reveals that prelinguistic infants can categorize colors

A joint group of researchers from Chuo University, Japan Women’s University and Tohoku University has revealed that infants aged between 5 and 7 months hold the representation of color categories in their brain, even before the acquisition of language.

This study is published in the online journal of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A.

A long-held theory called Sapir-Wharf hypothesis claims that languages define our perceptions. This theory is widely accepted in various fields of study including psychology, linguistics and anthropology. Color perception is also considered to be subject to this theory, since colors are called by their names in daily communications.

Through numerous studies on the color lexicons of languages in the world, categorical color perception is considered to be strongly affected by language. On the other hand, the similarity of color categories across linguistic and cultural differences is also reported as strong evidence of the universality of color categories. Therefore, whether or not language affects color categories has been a central issue related to how we perceive colors.

Image of child wearing NIRS probe
Figure 1. (Top) Infants watched figures whose colors alternate. NIRS probe set is fitted on an infant’s head with bands. (Bottom) Sequence of color changes in the experiment. Colors alternated every 1s. B1 represents a color of blue category and G1/G2 represent two different colors of green category. Color differences between G1-B1, and G1-G2 are equated
Image: Tohoku University