Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Psychol., 14 October 2010 | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00162

Constructing agency: the role of language

  • 1 Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA
  • 2 Laboratoire de Sciences Cognitives et Psycholinguistique, CNRS/EHESS/DEC-ENS, Paris, France
  • 3 Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, USA

Is agency a straightforward and universal feature of human experience? Or is the construction of agency (including attention to and memory for people involved in events) guided by patterns in culture? In this paper we focus on one aspect of cultural experience: patterns in language. We examined English and Japanese speakers’ descriptions of intentional and accidental events. English and Japanese speakers described intentional events similarly, using mostly agentive language (e.g., “She broke the vase”). However, when it came to accidental events English speakers used more agentive language than did Japanese speakers. We then tested whether these different patterns found in language may also manifest in cross-cultural differences in attention and memory. Results from a non-linguistic memory task showed that English and Japanese speakers remembered the agents of intentional events equally well. However, English speakers remembered the agents of accidents better than did Japanese speakers, as predicted from patterns in language. Further, directly manipulating agency in language during another laboratory task changed people’s eye-witness memory, confirming a possible causal role for language. Patterns in one’s linguistic environment may promote and support how people instantiate agency in context.

Keywords: culture, language, eye-witness memory, events, causality, agents, accident

Citation: Fausey CM, Long BL, Inamori A and Boroditsky L (2010) Constructing agency: the role of language. Front. Psychology 1:162. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00162

Received: 07 August 2010; Paper pending published: 29 August 2010;
Accepted: 12 September 2010; Published online: 15 October 2010.

Edited by:

Heejung Kim, University of California at Santa Barbara, USA

Reviewed by:

Joan Chiao, Northwestern University, USA
Eric D. Knowles, University of California at Irvine, USA

Copyright: © 2010 Fausey, Long, Inamori and Boroditsky. This is an open-access article subject to an exclusive license agreement between the authors and the Frontiers Research Foundation, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original authors and source are credited.

*Correspondence: Caitlin M. Fausey, Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, 1101 E. 10th Street, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA. e-mail: cfausey@indiana.edu

Back to top