The role of language in eye-witness memory: Remembering who did it in English and Japanese


Does language play a role in how people interpret and remember causal events? One source of variation in causal event descriptions is agentivity, such as the difference between “She broke the vase” (agentive) vs. “The vase broke” (non-agentive). In this paper, we examined English and Japanese speakers’ descriptions of intentional and accidental events, as well as their memory for the causal agents of these events. While both groups of speakers used agentive language to describe intentional events, English speakers described accidents using more agentive language than did Japanese speakers. Similarly, English and Japanese speakers remembered intentional agents equally well but diverged in their memory for accidental agents, with better accidental agent memory in English than in Japanese. These results extend recent findings from a similar paradigm examining causal agent language and cognition in speakers of English and Spanish (Fausey & Boroditsky, submitted). It appears that patterns of language use shape how people interpret and remember causal events.

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