When the Tongue Slips, the Eyes Have It

Jan 20, 2005

How is it that we can look at a door and accidentally call it a window or call a shovel a rake? When people mislabel objects, they often blame themselves for rushing their words or not paying attention. But research at the Georgia Institute of Technology, published in the December issue of Psychological Science, suggests the mistakes may have less to do with concentration than previously thought. The findings provide an insight into how the brain organizes speech and suggests that when the tongue slips, the eyes may be the best window into a speaker’s intent.

“People typically look at objects before naming them, it’s part of the way they plan the words they are going to say, said Zenzi Griffin, assistant professor of psychology at Georgia Tech. “So, if people are rushing or being inattentive you might expect if they made an error that they spent less time looking at the object. But I found almost no difference in the amount of time people spent looking at an object when they made an error compared to when they didn’t. In fact, people who made an error spent slightly more time looking at the object.”

In the study, Griffin asked participants to name two or three line-drawn objects or describe the action in a scene, while she tracked their eye movements using video cameras outfitted with special software. She identified 41 full or partial speech errors uttered by 33 participants during eye-tracking experiments.

The results, said Griffin, show that at some level people know what they meant to say and that looking at the object doesn’t help to ensure that they will name it correctly. They also suggest that when a person makes a speech error, knowing what they are looking at may be more informative of their intentions than the words they say.

That may be useful to designers of speech recognition software, said Griffin. “Gaze can potentially provide clues to what uncertain words are - at least when people are talking about things in their immediate environment, like in a cockpit or an automobile,” she said. “Gaze can also help to disambiguate which object you are referring to, so if you say ‘Open the door,’ the software could know to which door you are referring.”

Source: Georgia Institute of Technology

Explore further: Media exposure to prior tragedies may sensitize people to new disasters

Related Stories

Wolfram's ID project launch touts ImageIdentify function

May 16, 2015

You see a picture but you cannot name it. "What animal is this?" "Hmm, sort of looks like a guitar, not a cello—what is this instrument?" The Wolfram Language Identification Project was launched on Wednesday ...

Japan's whaling science under the microscope

May 20, 2015

When Japanese researchers said earlier this year that eating whale meat could help prevent dementia and memory loss, the news provoked snorts of derision—it couldn't be real science, went the retort.

More cycling with e-bikes

May 20, 2015

According to a new study, electric bikes make people cycle longer and more often. The effect is best on women.

Recommended for you

More than two dozen articles provide insights on mummies

7 hours ago

In a special issue, The Anatomical Record ventures into the world of human mummified remains. In 26 articles, the anatomy of mummies is exquisitely detailed through cutting edge examination, while they are put in historical, archeo ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.