Can mirror-reading reverse the flow of time?

Abstract

Across cultures, people conceptualize time as if it flows along a horizontal timeline, but the direction of this implicit timeline is culture-specific: in cultures with left-to-right orthography (e.g., English-speaking cultures) time appears to flow rightward, but in cultures with right-to-left orthography (e.g., Arabic-speaking cultures) time flows leftward. Can orthography influence implicit time representations independent of other cultural and linguistic factors? Native Dutch speakers performed a space-time congruity task with the instructions and stimuli written in either standard Dutch or mirror-reversed Dutch. Participants in the Standard Dutch condition were fastest to judge past-oriented phrases by pressing the left button and future-oriented phrases by pressing the right button. Participants in the Mirror-Reversed Dutch condition showed the opposite pattern of reaction times, consistent with results found previously in native Arabic and Hebrew speakers. These results demonstrate a causal role for writing direction in shaping implicit mental representations of time.


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