In the English language, all shades of blue – light, medium, or dark – are nevertheless called blue. However, Russian speakers refer to light blue and dark blue with distinct names. There is no single term to classify light blue and dark blue into the same group. According to the Russian language, light blue and dark blue are distinctly different colors. The question is, do Russian speakers physically perceive light blue and dark blue as distinctly different colors?
Studies, like those found on Bentham Open, suggest that they do. When English speakers had the task of distinguishing between various shades of blue squares on a screen, reaction times remained relatively consistent. However, Russian speakers showed a 10% faster reaction time differentiating between dark blue and light blue than blue colors of similar shade variations.
What’s more intriguing, when Russian speakers had to memorize and recite numbers while simultaneously identifying colors, the 10% increase in reaction times went away. Is it possible that Russian speakers perceive light blue and dark blue colors differently because of their language?
When Russian speakers had to recite numbers and identify colors simultaneously, the quicker reaction times disappeared. Because Russian speakers’ focus turned to reciting numbers aloud, they were not reciting the names of colors in their heads.
In other words, Russian speakers could no longer think about the name of each color when it showed up on the screen. Instead, they concentrated on memorizing and saying numbers out loud. Russian speakers were busy reciting numbers. Therefore, they lost access to the language they used to reference colors.
When Russian speakers no longer had time to think about the names of dark blue and light blue in their language, their reaction times distinguishing light blue and dark blue became consistent with reaction times to distinguish blue from all other varieties.
It seems to be the case that when something is named or labeled, it becomes more distinguishable from something else, not only by its name but also in your mind and, therefore, when you look at it. Moreover, you perceive something in a specific way, not because it is objectively more distinct, but because your language dictates such and thereby influences your perception of it.
Several studies found on forums like Bentham Science can help you think about how perception influences your psychology, while other studies can help you reflect on how your perception influences how you see art.
This study demonstrates that language can alter your perception at a subconscious level. Language can transform how you see the world around you, as it does in how Russian speakers perceive shades of blue.