Which is in front of Chinese people: Past or Future?
A study on Chinese people’s space-time mapping
Yan Gu1 (email@example.com)
Yeqiu Zheng2 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Marc Swerts1 (email@example.com)
1Tilburg center for Cognition and Communication (TiCC), Tilburg University, the Netherlands
2Department of Econometrics and Operations Research, Tilburg University, the Netherlands
Recent research shows that Chinese, when they gesture
about time, tend to put the past “ahead” and the future
“behind”. Do they think of time in the way as suggested by
their gestures? In this study we investigate whether Chinese
people explicitly have such past-in-front mappings. In
experiment 1 we show that when time conceptions are
constructed with neutral wording (without spatial
metaphors), Chinese people are more likely to have a past-
in-front-mapping than Spaniards. This could be due to
cultural differences in temporal focus of attention, in that
Chinese people are more past-oriented than Europeans.
However, additional experiments (2 & 3) show that,
independent of culture, Chinese people’s past-in-front
mapping is sensitive to the wording of sagittal spatial
metaphors. In comparison to a neutral condition, they have
more past-in-front mappings when time conceptions are
constructed with past-in-front spatial metaphors (“front
day”, means the day before yesterday), 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.
Keywords: cross-cultural differences; space and time;
conceptual metaphor; Chinese; Temporal Focus Hypothesis
Across cultures people use space to represent time. The
conceptions of future and past are often linguistically
expressed by the use of spatial metaphors. For instance, in
English, we look forward to the bright future lying ahead,
or look back to the hard times behind (e.g., Clark, 1973;
Lakoff & Johnson, 1980). Interestingly, studies have
shown that people not only talk about time using a front-
back axis, but also tend to think about time this way, i.e.,
the future is mentally “ahead” of the speaker, and the past
is “behind” (Boroditsky, 2000; Miles, Nind & Macrae,
2010; Ulrich et al., 2012). This seems to be consistent
with the bodily experience of walking in a certain
direction, so that the path that we have passed by is the
past and the place that we are heading towards is the
future (e.g., Clark, 1973).
However, speakers of some languages exhibit the
opposite space-time mapping in the sagittal axis. For
example, in Aymara, the spatial words for front and back
literally mean past and future (e.g., “front year” means
last year, “back year” means next year). This past-in-front
mapping is also apparent from Aymara speakers’
spontaneous temporal gestures (Núñez & Sweetser, 2006).
Additionally, cultures may vary about the degree to
which they associate space to time. A recent study showed
that different spatial-temporal mappings between
Moroccans and Spaniards could be related to cross-culture
differences in temporal focus (Temporal Focus
Hypothesis). The Temporal Focus Hypothesis
demonstrates that the space-time mappings in people’s
minds are conditioned by their cultural attitudes towards
time. It is claimed to be dependent on attentional focus
and can be independent from the space-time mappings
enriched in language. For instance, despite the fact that
front-back time metaphors in Arabic are similar to
Spanish and English (future-in-front mappings),
Moroccans have a strong past-in-front mapping when
asked in a temporal diagram labelling experiment,
whereas the majority of Spaniards have a future-in-front
mapping. It has been argued that Moroccans are found to
focus more on past times and old generation, and place
more value on tradition in comparisons to Americans,
Spaniards and other Europeans. Interestingly, that study
also reveals that the focus of attention on past or future
may play a role in determining the spatializing of time in
people’s minds. For example, after performing a short
writing exercise that induces participants’ focus of
attention on the past, half of the Spaniards perform a past-
in-front mapping, the proportion of which is higher than
those without having the writing exercise (de la Fuente et
Although linguistic, cultural and bodily experiences
have been found to have separate influences on people’s
spatial representation of time (e.g., Boroditsky, 2001;
Fuhrman & Boroditsky, 2010; Núñez & Sweetser, 2006;
Saj et al., 2014), we still have limited knowledge on why
some communities adopt a future-in-front mapping
whereas others a past-in-front mapping for time. For
instance, Chinese people show a strong tendency to
gesture according to the past-in-front mapping (Gu et al.,
in preparation), whereas English and Dutch people have
an opposite tendency in the sagittal axis (Casasanto &
Jasmin, 2012). Based on the gesture data, it would appear
that Chinese speakers can think of time as the Aymara do.
However, gestures about time are not only shaped by
temporal thinking, but also by lexical choices (Gu et al.,
2014). Given that Mandarin speakers sometimes also
verbally produce “前 / qián” (front) (e.g., qián-tiān, front
day, the day before yesterday) when they gesture about a
past event, it could be that they just perform a forward
gesture to make it congruent with the word “qián” (front,
before). Therefore, a more explicit approach will be
helpful to bring a clearer picture.
Furthermore, as for the temporal focus in Chinese
culture, most studies find that Chinese people are
primarily past-oriented. For example, Chinese attend to a
greater range of temporal information in the past than do
European Canadians (Ji et al, 2009), and they perceive
objects in the past as being much more valuable than their
American counterparts do (Guo et al, 2012). If the cross-
cultural differences in temporal focus indeed predict a
different space-time mapping (Temporal Focus
Hypothesis, de la Fuente et al., 2014), we will expect that
Chinese people are more likely to have a past-in-front
mapping than European people (e.g., Spaniards).
The purpose of this paper first is to find out whether
Chinese people indeed have a past-in-front mapping. If
they do, then we further explore possible accounts for that
Experiment 1: Do Chinese people place the
past events in front?
Rather than the gesture approach that tested implicit
knowledge of sagittal timeline (Gu et al., in preparation),
in experiment 1 a more explicit paradigm was used to
examine whether Chinese people have a past-in-front
mapping. This paradigm has been used to test Moroccans
and Spaniards to study the cross-cultural differences in
space-time mapping at the sagittal axis (de la Fuente et al.,
2014), and we use their Spanish data as comparison
38 Mandarin speakers participated in the experiment.
They were tested in Rizhao, China, and all materials were
Materials and Procedure
Participants performed a temporal diagram task adapted
from de la Fuente et al., (2014, Experiment 1).
Participants sat at a table and they saw a toy doll (named
Xiaoming) with one box in front of the toy and one box
behind it. Participants and the character faced the same
direction in the sagittal plane (Fig. 1). Participants read
that yesterday (昨天, zuó-tiān) Xiaoming went to visit a
friend who liked eating apples, and tomorrow ( 明天,
míng-tiān) he would be going to visit a friend who likes
eating pears (or vice versa, depending on the version of
the task the participant received). Participants were given
an apple and a pear and were instructed to put the “apple”
in the box that corresponded to what happened at an
earlier time and the “pear” to the box that corresponded to
what would happen at a later time. The order of
mentioning of the apples and pears was counterbalanced,
as were their pairs with “yesterday” and “tomorrow”.
Note that the temporal expressions (i.e., yesterday,
tomorrow, earlier, later) in the instructions consisted of
neutral wording in a sense that they had no spatial
Instead of doing the task on paper (de la Fuente et al.,
2014), we asked participants to do the task with real
entities. This can not only record how participants fulfil
the task, but also minimize the potential projection of
vertical timeline into the sagittal axis (as in Chinese there
are vertical spatial metaphors of “up” and “down”
representing the time conceptions of “early” and “late”).
Each participant individually did the task with the
experimenter in a quiet room. After the task, s/he was
given a questionnaire to fill in some background
information such as gender and age. Participants were
paid a small fee and signed a consent form.
Figure 1: Setting up of Experiments 1-3.
Results and Discussion
36.8% of participants responded according to the past-in-
front mapping, placing the past event in the box in front of
the character and the future event in the box behind it.
This rate was not significantly different from chance, p
= .14 (a sign test, N = 38), which suggests that Chinese
people may have no bias for the past/future-in-front
mapping. In comparison to the Spaniards (12%) in de la
Fuente et al’s (2014) study, Chinese people were
significantly more inclined to place the past in front of the
character, as revealed by a binary logistic regression,
Wald χ2 (1, N = 88) = 6.98, p =.008, odds ratio = 4.28, 95%
confidence interval (CI) = [1.46, 12.57].
The space-time mappings shown by this diagram task
confirmed the mappings that were previously observed in
native Mandarin speakers’ spontaneous hand gestures (Gu
et al, in preparation) and forced pointing gestures (Lai &
Boroditsky, 2013): some Chinese appear to conceptualise
time according to a past-in-front mapping. Furthermore,
the cross-cultural differences between Chinese and
Spaniards seem to indicate a long-term effect of cultural
attitudes on the spatialization of time, as predicted by the
Temporal Focus Hypothesis (de la Fuente et al, 2014).
In experiment 1, the temporal expressions in the
instructions were constructed with neutral words.
However, in Chinese very often the wording of the
temporal conceptions of “the past” and “the future”
contained the lexicons of “前 / qián” (front, before) and
“后 / hòu” (back, after), which share the same lexicons
with the spatial location of front and back (like Aymara
speakers). That means, Chinese people can use past-in-
front/future-in-back spatial metaphors to express time
(e.g., 后天 / hòu-tiān, back day, the day after tomorrow;
今后 / jīn-hòu, from today back, from now on). If spatial
metaphors for time can have an immediate effect on
people’s mental representations (e.g., Boroditsky, 2000;
Lai & Boroditsky, 2013), we expect that Chinese people
will have more past-in-front mapping when the temporal
relations are expressed with such explicit spatial markers
(e.g., use “front day” and “back day” rather than
“yesterday” and “tomorrow”; use “to front” and “from
now back” rather than “an earlier time” and “a later time”),
with a comparison to the result in Experiment 1.
Experiment 2: Does the spatial lexicon
matter: past-in-front language
A new group of 37 Mandarin speakers participated in the
past-in-front metaphor condition. They were tested in
Rizhao, China, and all materials were in Mandarin.
Materials and Procedure
Participants followed the same procedure to fulfil the
temporal diagram task as described in experiment 1.
However, the instructions about the temporal task were
different from those in experiment 1.
First, in the statement they now read that the day before
yesterday (前天, qián-tiān, front day) Xiaoming went to
visit a friend who liked eating apples, and the day after
tomorrow (后天, hòu-tiān, back day) he would be going
to visit a friend who likes eating pears. This new pair of
temporal constructs have a similar period of time unit as
the pair of “yesterday” and “tomorrow”, both being one or
two days in reference to now. Furthermore, both pairs
convey a clear contrast between the past and future time
conceptions while the new pair has past-in-front / future-
in-back spatial metaphors.
Second, the neutral words of “future” and “past” events
in the task instruction were replaced with time
conceptions consisting of spatial words. Specifically,
participants were instructed to put the “apple”
in the box that corresponded to the past (以前, yǐ-qián, to
front, before) events and the “pear” to the box that
corresponded to the future (今后，jīn-hòu, now back,
from now on) events (or vice versa) (Table 1).
Results and Discussion
Interestingly, for the past-in-front metaphor condition,
there were 57% of participants who responded according
to the past-in-front responses. This rate was not
significantly different from chance (a sign test, p > 0.05,
N = 37), which may indicate that Chinese people probably
do not have a bias for the past or future in-front mapping
when primed by the past-in-front metaphors. However,
the proportion was significantly higher than that of 36.8%
in the neutral condition (Experiment 1), Wald χ2 (1, N =
75) = 2.95, p =.086 (two tailed), odds ratio = 2.25, CI =
The results showed that the space-time mapping was
sensitive to the spatial lexical choices. When temporal
conceptions were constructed with past-in-front spatial
metaphors (spatial words “front” and “back” for the past
and future conceptions), participants were more likely to
perform a past-in-front mapping than temporal
conceptions that were constructed with neutral wording.
The result is consistent with previous finding on
spontaneous gestures that Chinese tend to produce past-
in-front temporal gestures when they are using past-in-
front spatial metaphors (Gu et al, in preparation).
Table 1: Instructions for Experiments 1, 2 & 3.
Yesterday (Exp 1 & 3) / The day before yesterday (Exp 2)
Xiaoming went to visit a friend who liked eating apples,
and tomorrow (Exp 1 & 3) / the day after tomorrow (Exp
2) he would be going to visit a friend who likes eating
pears. There are two boxes near Xiaoming. Please put the
“apple” in the box that corresponds to [past: what
happened at an earlier time (Exp 1) / to front (Exp 2) /
pass go (Exp 3)] and the “pear” to the box that
corresponds to [future: what would happen at a later time
(Exp 1) / now back (Exp2) / hasn’t yet come (Exp 3)].
Table 2: Examples of Mandarin Chinese phrases
showing a Future-in-Front and a Past-in-Back Mapping.
展 望 未 来
zhăn wàng wèi lái
unfold gaze-into-distance hasn’t come
Looking into the future
回 首 过 去
huí shǒu guò qù
turn-around head pass go
Looking back to the past
Nevertheless, Chinese do not exclusively use lexical
cues to associate past with front, but also have the option
to use words that suggest future is in front in that sense
being similar to speakers of familiar future-in-front
languages (e.g., English, Dutch and Spanish). For
example, apart from “以前 / yǐ-qián” (to front, before) and
“今后 / jīn-hòu” (now back, from now on) (Experiment 2),
“过去 / guò qù” (pass go, past) and “未/将来 / wèi/jiāng-
lái” (hasn’t come yet / will come, future) are common
translations of past and future. Metaphorically, the word
“来 / lái” (come) refers to the future as coming to us and
the words “过去 / guò qù” (pass go) refers to that time as
moving away from us to the past. For instance, as shown
in Table 2, “未来 / wèi-lái” (hasn’t come yet) is suggested
to be in front and “过去 / guò qù” (pass go) is at the back.
Time in these metaphors is taken as an ego-reference
point, with the future in front and past in back of the
speaker (Yu, 2012). In other words, the linguistic
metaphors suggest a future-in-front/past-in-back mapping.
If there is an immediate effect of temporal wording on
mental representation that can be independent from the
culture (cf. Experiment 2), Chinese people are expected to
perform fewer past-in-front mappings when the
instructions of temporal concepts are in future-in-front
metaphors, in comparison to that of when instructions are
in past-in-front metaphors and neutral words.
Experiment 3: Does the spatial lexicon matter:
A new group of 39 Mandarin speakers participated in the
future-in-front metaphor condition. They were tested in
Rizhao, China, and all materials were in Mandarin.
Materials and Procedure
Participants followed the same procedure to fulfil the
temporal diagram task as described in experiment 1,
except that the temporal words used in the instruction
The neutral wording of “what happened at an earlier
time” and “what would happen at a later time” in the task
instruction of experiment 1 were replaced with “past
events” and “future events”, conveying future-in-front
metaphors. Specifically, participants were instructed to
put the “apple” in the box that corresponded to “过去 /
guò-qù” (pass go, past) events, and the “pear” to the box
that corresponded to “未来 / wèi-lái” (will/not yet come,
future) events (Table 2).
Results and Discussion
In this future-in-front metaphor condition, only a small
proportion of Chinese people performed a past-in-front
mapping, which was significantly different from that in
the past-in-front metaphor condition (8% vs. 57%), Wald
χ2 (1, N = 76) = 16.13, p = .0001, odds ratio = 15.75, CI =
[4.10, 60.48]. The rate was also significantly different
from that of the neutral wording condition (8% vs. 36.8%)
Wald χ2 (1, N = 77) = 7.99, p = .0047, odds ratio = 7.00,
CI = [1.82, 26.99]. Additionally, a sign test showed that 8%
was significantly lower than chance, (p < .0001, N = 39),
which indicates that Chinese participants in the future-in-
front metaphor condition have a bias towards future-in-
When we merged the data from Experiments 1, 2 and 3,
and recoded the three temporal wording conditions
according to the extent to which they hinted past-in-front
mappings: that is, the least for future-in-front metaphors,
than the neutral wording, and the most for past-in-front
metaphors. The result showed that wording was indeed a
significant factor in predicting Chinese participants’ past-
in-front mappings. Wald χ2 (1, N = 114) = 17.99, p
< .0001, odds ratio = 3.51, CI = [1.96, 6.26]. In other
words, the more a temporal expression is conveying a
past-in-front mapping, the more likely a Chinese will
conceptualise the past in the front. This again
demonstrates an effect of spatial metaphors on people’s
mental representation of time within the Chinese culture.
To further confirm the assumption of this lexical effect,
we did a random check on some participants who
performed future-in-front mappings. They were shortly
asked to perform the task again after receiving an oral
instruction, in which the temporal expressions were
changed to the past-in-front spatial metaphors (thus using
the same temporal wording as in Experiment 2, i.e., “以前
/ yǐ-qián” (to front, before) and “今后 / jīn-hòu” (now
back, from now on). Interestingly, some Chinese people
(the same participants) shifted from a future-in-front
mapping to a past-in-front mapping. We immediately
asked them the reason why they had two completely
different placements. Their response then usually was a
variant of: “Because you used the words of “以前 / yǐ-
qián” (to front, past), and my feeling for what happened in
“yǐ-qián” should be in front.…” Therefore, lexical spatial
metaphors of time indeed seem to have an immediate
influence on people’s mental representation of time.
Figure 2: Results of Exps 1-3: percentage of past-in-front
and future-in-front responses, separately for Spaniards (de
la Fuente et al, 2014), Chinese neutral group (Exp 1)
Chinese past-in-front metaphor group (CPFM Exp 2), and
Chinese future-in-front metaphor group (CFFM, Exp 3).
Furthermore, in comparison to Spaniards, we see an
interaction between lexical effect and culture (Fig. 2). For
instance, Chinese people in the past-in-front metaphor
condition were significantly different from Spaniards (57%
vs 12%), Wald χ2 (1, N = 87) = 17.12, p < .0001, odds
ratio = 9.62, CI = [3.29, 28.13]. Nevertheless, Chinese
people in the future-in-front metaphor condition did not
exhibit significant differences from the Spaniards (8% vs.
12%), Wald χ2 (1, N = 89) = 0.44, p = .51, odds ratio =
0.61, CI = [.14, 2.62]. When combining data from
Experiments 1, 2, and 3, Chinese people were still more
likely to have past-in-front mappings than the Spaniards
(12% vs. 33%), Wald χ2 (1, N = 164) = 7.38, p = .0066,
odds ratio = 3.67, CI = [1.44, 9.36]. This result confirms
that there were significant differences between Chinese
and Spanish cultures, as predicted by the Temporal Focus
Hypothesis, according to which Chinese are more past-
oriented than Europeans. These differences may not be
explained by the wording of the task, as approximately
equal numbers of participants had past-in-front, future-in-
front and neutral wording tasks.
Spaniards C_Neutral CPFM CFFM
Past = Front Future = Front
General Discussion and Conclusion
Previous studies observed that Chinese people can
perform forward temporal gestures for past events and
backward gestures for future events (Gu et al, in
preparation; Lai & Boroditsky, 2013), and in addition
display the universally more common pattern that past is
gestured towards the back and future towards the front
(e.g., English, Dutch and French people). The present
study used a temporal diagram task to explicitly test
whether Chinese people have a past-in-front mapping. In
three experiments, the lexicons of temporal expressions
were manipulated as neutral, past-in-front and past-in-
back metaphors. According to the results of Experiments
1 and 2, in which temporal expressions were constructed
with neutral or past-in-front mappings, Chinese people did
not have a bias towards past-in-front or future-in-front
mappings. This pattern of space-time mapping was
different from Spaniards, who predominately had a future-
in-front mapping. Interestingly, when the wording of the
temporal expressions consisted of future-in-front
metaphors, Chinese appeared to have similar future-in-
front mappings as Spaniards (Experiment 3). On average,
around one third of Chinese participants (Experiments 1,
2 & 3) had past-in-front mappings, and this proportion
was much larger than that of Spaniards (Fig. 2).
We further explored several aspects that can account
for Chinese people’s past-in-front mapping. First, the
differences among three experiments show that lexical
spatial metaphors have an online effect on the space-time
mapping. Chinese people are more likely to have past-in-
front mappings when past and future time conceptions are
expressed with lexical “qián” (front, before) and “hòu”
(back, after) than when they are expressed with neutral
wording. By contrast, Chinese are less likely to have past-
in-front mappings when past and future are expressed
with lexicons of “guò-qù” (past go, past) and “wèi-lái”
(hasn’t come, future) than when they are expressed with
neutral wording. The lexical spatial metaphor is a
significant predictor of Chinese people’s space-time
This raises the question as to what causes some Chinese
people to use a past-in-front mapping even in the neutral
condition (Experiment 1). Partly, this pattern could be
related to a long term use of the past-in-front spatial
metaphors, such that participants form a habitual space-
time mapping even in the neutral condition.
This is in line with the proposal that speaking and
learning different spatial metaphors can lead to different
conceptualisations of time (e.g., Boroditsky, 2001). For
instance, in a top/down plane, Chinese speakers can use
vertical spatial metaphors to talk and gesture about time
(e.g., “up week” means last week). Due to the habitual
vertical conceptualisation of time, they also perform
vertical gestures for temporal conceptions with no spatial
metaphors (e.g., yesterday, tomorrow), though to a lesser
extent (Gu et al., 2014).
However, we observed cross-cultural differences
between Chinese and Spaniards in space-time mappings.
Chinese people are significantly more often spatializing
the past in front than the Spaniards, both in the lexical
neutral condition and all conditions combined. One can
ascribe this discrepancy to the differences in cultural
values towards the past and future. If Chinese people
perceive past more valuable and are more past-focused
than the Europeans (Ji et al, 2009), it is plausible that
Chinese people will more often have past-in-front
mappings than the Spaniards. Given the fact that people
usually put in front what they consider to be important, if
the past is important, it is of a high priority to be placed in
the front. Therefore, the differences in temporal focuses
between Chinese and Spanish cultures may be part of the
explanation for why Chinese people have a larger
proportion of past-in-front mappings than the Spaniards.
This provides new evidence supporting the Temporal
Focus Hypothesis (de la Fuente, 2014).
To further explore the extent to which temporal focus
plays a role in shaping Chinese people’s space-time
mappings, we need to do a qualitative survey on Chinese
people’s cultural focus of attention. Moreover, to better
understand the interplay between language and cultural
focus of attention, future study can research whether
western learners of Chinese can form a habitual past-in-
front mapping in the neutral condition after learning
Chinese sagittal spatial metaphors, controlling for cultural
focus of attention. Alternatively, we can also compare
Mandarin speakers with Chinese signed language
speakers, who have different sagittal spatial temporal
metaphors within the Chinese culture (in Chinese signed
language, the spatial metaphors of “front” is only used for
the expression of the future temporal concepts) (Gu &
Swerts, in preparation).
Furthermore, according to posthoc interviews, the
various results may be due to competing time conceptions
in Chinese participants. Some participants explained that
the past refers to known events so one can see it in front
of eyes, whereas the future is unknown and one cannot see
it (so it is at the back). This explanation is in line with
Aymara speakers, who also have a past-in-front mapping
(Núñez & Sweetser, 2006).
Alternatively, some participants explained that they put
what has happened first in the front and what has
happened afterwards in the back. It is possible that those
who put the past in front take a Time-Reference-Point
metaphor, where earlier events in time are “in front of”
later events (Núñez, Motz, & Teuscher, 2006; Yu, 2012).
Specifically, they consider the series of events as a
sequence from the front to the back as if they are waiting
in a queue. For instance, no matter which direction you
look at in the line, there is a front and back to that line
according to convention. Those who are or near first
position will be served earlier than those who are behind
them (later), irrespective of the Ego’s point of view
(Núñez, Motz, & Teuscher, 2006; Walker, Bergen &
Núñez, 2015). In other words, if one would be positioned
in such a queue, then the people that are way back in the
line will be served later (so in a more distant future).
If Chinese people think of time events as a sequence,
then the anteriority refers to one time as being earlier in a
sequence than another whereas posteriority refers to one
time that is later in a sequence than another. This way of
thinking is different from the category of “past” and
“future”, as a time conception of past can still be earlier in
a sequence than a time conception of future, i.e., past is in
front of future. In other words, the spatial-temporal
mapping depends on the sequence of the time references
regardless of the time conceptions per se. For instance,
even if we instruct participants by an anterior event with a
past time conception and posterior event with a future
time conception, participants are expected to have a past-
in-front mapping if they think about time in a sequence.
Note that in our temporal diagram task, there was a
character standing between the two boxes. Such a design
may require participants to displace the deictic centre
from their body to an external location and thus may
cause them to avoid using internal deictic time. It is likely
that participants mapped earlier or later events on to the
inherent “frontness” and “backness” of the character, with
earlier events lying ahead of the character and later events
lying behind. The finding is consistent with the “earlier
events lie ahead of later events” structure found in the
study of psychological reality of sequential time (Gentner,
Imai & Boroditsky, 2002; Núñez, Motz, & Teuscher,
2006; Walker, Bergen, & Núñez, 2015).
In sum, the experiments demonstrate a cross-cultural
difference in spatial conceptions of time and explore the
accounts for Chinese people’s past-in-front mappings.
The findings of the study support de la Fuente (2014)’s
Temporal Focus Hypothesis, provide further evidence to
the claim that uttering a different spatial metaphor may
influence that speakers’ conceptualisation of time
(Boroditsky, 2001; Lai & Boroditsky, 2013), and are also
consistent with previous studies on the psychological
reality of sequential time (e.g., Núñez, Motz, & Teuscher,
2006). The study contributes to a growing body of
evidence that spatial-temporal thinking can be rapidly
affected by context (Boroditsky, 2000; Casasanto &
Bottini, 2014). Moreover, there 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.
The first author received financial support from The
Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research, via
NWO Promoties in de geesteswetenschappen (322-89-
007), which is greatly acknowledged.
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