The automatic visual simulation of words: A memory reactivated mask slows down conceptual access


How do we represent the meaning of words? The present study assesses whether access to conceptual knowledge requires the reenactment of the sensory components of a concept. The reenactment—that is, simulation—was tested in a word categorisation task using an innovative masking paradigm. We hypothesised that a meaningless reactivated visual mask should interfere with the simulation of the visual dimension of concrete words. This assumption was tested in a paradigm in which participants were not aware of the link between the visual mask and the words to be processed. In the first phase, participants created a tone–visual mask or tone–control stimulus association. In the test phase, they categorised words that were presented with 1 of the tones. Results showed that words were processed more slowly when they were presented with the reactivated mask. This interference effect was only correlated with and explained by the value of the visual perceptual strength of the words (i.e., our experience with the visual dimensions associated with concepts) and not with other characteristics. We interpret these findings in terms of word access, which may involve the simulation of sensory features associated with the concept, even if participants were not explicitly required to access visual properties