Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Time to understand pictures and words

Abstract

WHEN an object such as a chair is presented visually, or is represented by a line drawing, a spoken word, or a written word, the initial stages in the process leading to understanding are clearly different in each case. There is disagreement, however, about whether those early stages lead to a common abstract representation in memory, the idea of a chair1–4, or to two separate representations, one verbal (common to spoken and written words), and the other image-like5. The first view claims that words and images are associated with ideas, but the underlying representation of an idea is abstract. According to the second view, the verbal representation alone is directly associated with abstract information about an object (for example, its superordinate category: furniture). Concrete perceptual information (for example, characteristic shape, colour or size) is associated with the imaginal representation. Translation from one representation to the other takes time, on the second view, which accounts for the observation that naming a line drawing takes longer than naming (reading aloud) a written word6,7. Here we confirm that naming a drawing of an object takes much longer than reading its name, but we show that deciding whether the object is in a given category such as ‘furniture’ takes slightly less time for a drawing than for a word, a result that seems to be inconsistent with the second view.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

References

  1. Schank, R. C., Cog. Psychol., 3, 552–631 (1972).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Anderson, J. R., and Bower, G. H., Human Associative Memory (Wiley, New York, 1973).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Seymour, P. H. K., Br. J. Psychol., 64, 35–49 (1973).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Potter, M. C., Science (in the press).

  5. Paivio, A., Imagery and Verbal Processes (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York 1971).

    Google Scholar 

  6. Woodworth, R. S., Experimental Psychology, (Holt, New York, 1938).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Fraisse, P., Percept. mot. Skills, 11, 204 (1960); Annee Psychol., 64, 21–46 (1964).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Wingfield, A., Acta. Psychol., 26, 216–226 (1967); Am. J. Psychol., 81, 226–234 (1968).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Cohen, G., Q. J. exp. Psychol., 25, 557–564 (1973).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Forster, R. I., and Chambers, S. M., J. verbal Learning verbal Behav., 12, 627–635 (1973).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

POTTER, M., FAULCONER, B. Time to understand pictures and words. Nature 253, 437–438 (1975). https://doi.org/10.1038/253437a0

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/253437a0

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing