October 19, 2004

Time and space again

In connection with my 10/16 post on the language of time and space, Chris at Mixing Memory emailed to draw my attention to an earlier post of his that referenced some actual research on the subject. My favorite part of what I learned is the interaction of spatio-temporal metaphors with the psychology of motivation. Given an ambiguous case ("Wednesday's event has been moved forward two days", which could mean either to Monday or to Friday), people tend to choose so as to make pleasant things come sooner and unpleasant things later. Chris implies that the spatial metaphor of approach and avoidance is playing a role, though I should have thought that wishful thinking would do the trick in a purely temporal realm. And shouldn't there be some types who naturally assume that the bad stuff is coming up quicker?

Meanwhile, (a different) Chris at serendipity adds the observation that "we leaf backwards towards the front of the book (while reading forwards to reach its back cover, or end), whereas we walk forwards towards the front of a crowd or parade."

Posted by Mark Liberman at October 19, 2004 07:16 AM