Which is in front of Chinese people: Past or Future? A study on Chinese people’s space-time mapping


Research shows that Chinese, when they gesture about time, tend to put the past “ahead” and future “behind”. Do they think of time in the way as suggested by their gestures? In Exp1 we show that when time conceptions are constructed with neutral wording, Chinese are more likely to have past-in-front-mappings than Spaniards. This could be due to cultural differences in temporal focus of attention, as Chinese people are more past-oriented than Europeans. However, Exp2&3 show that, independent of culture, Chinese’s past-in-front mapping is sensitive to the wording of sagittal spatial metaphors. In comparison to neutral wording, they have more past-in-front mappings when time conceptions are constructed with past-in-front spatial metaphors, whereas fewer past-in-front mappings are constructed with future-in-front metaphors. There thus appear to be both long-term effects of cultural attitudes on the spatialization of time, and also immediate effects of the space-time metaphors used to probe people’s mental representations.

Back to Table of Contents