Are visual and verbal processing systems functionally independent? Two experiments (one using line drawings of common objects, the other using faces) explored the relationship between the number of syllables in an object's name (one or three) and the visual inspection of that object. The tasks were short-term recognition and visual search. Results indicated more fixations and longer gaze durations on objects having three-syllable names when the task encouraged a verbal encoding of the objects (i.e., recognition). No effects of syllable length on eye movements were found when implicit naming demands were minimal (i.e., visual search). These findings suggest that implicitly naming a pictorial object constrains the oculomotor inspection of that object, and that the visual and verbal encoding of an object are synchronized so that the faster process must wait for the slower to be completed before gaze shifts to another object. Both findings imply a tight coupling between visual and linguistic processing, and highlight the utility of an oculomotor methodology to understand this coupling.
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