Is the future the right time?

Marc Ouellet, Julio Santiago, Ziv Israeli, Shai Gabay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Spanish and English speakers tend to conceptualize time as running from left to right along a mental line. Previous research suggests that this representational strategy arises from the participants' exposure to a left-to-right writing system. However, direct evidence supporting this assertion suffers from several limitations and relies only on the visual modality. This study subjected to a direct test the reading hypothesis using an auditory task. Participants from two groups (Spanish and Hebrew) differing in the directionality of their orthographic system had to discriminate temporal reference (past or future) of verbs and adverbs (referring to either past or future) auditorily presented to either the left or right ear by pressing a left or a right key. Spanish participants were faster responding to past words with the left hand and to future words with the right hand, whereas Hebrew participants showed the opposite pattern. Our results demonstrate that the left-right mapping of time is not restricted to the visual modality and that the direction of reading accounts for the preferred directionality of the mental time line. These results are discussed in the context of a possible mechanism underlying the effects of reading direction on highly abstract conceptual representations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)308-314
Number of pages7
JournalExperimental Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Conceptual metaphor
  • Hebrew
  • Linguistic relativity
  • Semantics
  • Spanish
  • Spatial cognition
  • Time
  • Writing systems

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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