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Perceptual information is important for the meaning of nouns. We present modality exclusivity norms for 485 Dutch nouns rated on visual, auditory, haptic, gustatory, and olfactory associations. We found these nouns are highly multimodal. They were rated most dominant in vision, and least in olfaction. A factor analysis identified two main dimensions: one loaded strongly on olfaction and gustation (reflecting joint involvement in flavor), and a second loaded strongly on vision and touch (reflecting joint involvement in manipulable objects). In a second study, we validated the ratings with similarity judgments. As expected, words from the same dominant modality were rated more similar than words from different dominant modalities; but – more importantly – this effect was enhanced when word pairs had high modality strength ratings. We further demonstrated the utility of our ratings by investigating whether perceptual modalities are differentially experienced in space, in a third study. Nouns were categorized into their dominant modality and used in a lexical decision experiment where the spatial position of words was either in proximal or distal space. We found words dominant in olfaction were processed faster in proximal than distal space compared to the other modalities, suggesting olfactory information is mentally simulated as “close” to the body. Finally, we collected ratings of emotion (valence, dominance, and arousal) to assess its role in perceptual space simulation, but the valence did not explain the data. So, words are processed differently depending on their perceptual associations, and strength of association is captured by modality exclusivity ratings.

Original publication




Journal article


Behavior Research Methods

Publication Date





2204 - 2218