A recent study reported the presence of a significant English bias in cognitive research. He pointed out that the scope of cognitive science is limited due to the large number of English-speaking participants and researchers.
What did the study find?
The study reported that one in six people worldwide speak some variant of the English language without too much difficulty. Thus, English became the most dominant and widespread language in the history of our species.
Interestingly, English dominance can be linked to cognitive science through the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. This principle suggests that the structure of a language affects the worldview of its speaker, and that it involves brain cognition and influences people’s perceptions. In other words, a person’s primary language affects how they perceive the world around them.
So an American might see the world differently than an Indian because their brain works differently due to the difference in their spoken language.
Other opinions consistent with the English bias in cognitive science
Besides the recent study, researchers from various leading institutions such as Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Harvard University, Purdue University, etc. also believe that English has significantly influenced cognition people.
Many researchers at these institutions believe that there has been generalization among cognitive researchers due to oversampling of English speakers. Therefore, several limitations affected the advancement of this field and impacted several sub-domains, such as memory, social cognition, perception, and reasoning.
How did linguistic representation affect cognition?
Several studies have reported that language influences sensory perceptions that are essential in determining cognition; one of these determinants is sound.
Unlike other languages, English does not depend on specific tones or sounds. On the other hand, 40% of all languages in the world derive most of their meanings from particular sounds, and one such example is Mandarin. The unique feature of tone addiction influences cognitive traits such as speech encoding and sensory memory. Thus, depending on tones is a difference between the influence of English and other languages on cognition.
Another difference is the writing direction of people speaking different languages. Handwriting orientation is reported to affect auditory and visual inferences. This is also proven by several studies on illiterate people who do not have this preference. These studies found a strong association between reading-related cognitive processes and the type of script used by participants. Most of these studies are based on the unique features of the English language, such as consonants and vowels.
What are the differences between English and other languages?
Any language we speak directly links cognitive categories such as problem solving, impact learning, and reasoning. Beyond our senses, different languages impact other factors, such as spatial relationships, numerical representation, causality, motion events, etc., in different ways.
The most significant drawback of these differences between English and other languages is that cognitive sciences dominated by English cannot be transferred and understood by speakers of other languages.
To reduce this gap between different languages, scientists have proposed several solutions. They include using language-open databases, increasing the participation of non-English speakers in cognitive studies through crowdsourcing, organizing studies in other cultures, and increasing coordination between institutes in different countries.