People often talk to themselves, yet very little is known about the functions of this self-directed speech. We explore effects of self-directed speech on visual processing by using a visual search task. According to the label feedback hypothesis (Lupyan, 2007a), verbal labels can change ongoing perceptual processing—for example, actually hearing “chair” compared to simply thinking about a chair can temporarily make the visual system a better “chair detector”. Participants searched for common objects, while being sometimes asked to speak the target’s name aloud. Speaking facilitated search, particularly when there was a strong association between the name and the visual target. As the discrepancy between the name and the target increased, speaking began to impair performance. Together, these results speak to the power of words to modulate ongoing visual processing.
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