Thinking about the future: The role of spatial metaphors for time


People often use spatial language to talk about time, and this is known to both reflect and shape how they think about it. Despite much research on the spatial grounding of temporal language and thought, little attention has been given to how spatial metaphors influence reasoning about real events, especially those in the future. In a large online study (N=2362), we framed a discussion of climate change using spatial metaphors that varied on reference-frame (ego- vs. time-moving), speed of movement (fast vs. slow), and time horizon (near, medium, or far future). We found that describing climate change as approaching (time-moving frame) –versus something we approach– made the issue seem more serious, but also more tractable, at least when the rate of motion was fast (e.g., “it’s rapidly approaching”). These findings offer novel insights into the relationship between spatial metaphors and temporal reasoning and how we communicate about uncertain future events.

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