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Reversing the direction of time: Does the visibility of spatial representations of time shape temporal focus?

Hömke, P., Majid, A., & Boroditsky, L. (2013). Reversing the direction of time: Does the visibility of spatial representations of time shape temporal focus? Proceedings of the Master's Program Cognitive Neuroscience, 8(1), 40-54. Retrieved from http://www.ru.nl/master/cns/journal/archive/volume-8-issue-1/print-edition/.
While people around the world mentally represent time in terms of space, there is substantial cross-cultural variability regarding which temporal constructs are mapped onto which parts in space. Do particular spatial layouts of time – as expressed through metaphors in language – shape temporal focus? We trained native English speakers to use spatiotemporal metaphors in a way such that the flow of time is reversed, representing the future behind the body (out of visible space) and the past ahead of the body (within visible space). In a task measuring perceived relevance of past events, people considered past events and present (or immediate past) events to be more relevant after using the reversed metaphors compared to a control group that used canonical metaphors spatializing the past behind and the future ahead of the body (Experiment 1). In a control measure in which temporal information was removed, this effect disappeared (Experiment 2). Taken together, these findings suggest that the degree to which people focus on the past may be shaped by the visibility of the past in spatiotemporal metaphors used in language.
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