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Flexible Conceptual Projection of Time Onto Spatial Frames of Reference

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Flexibility in conceptual projection constitutes one of the most challenging issues in the embodiment and conceptual metaphor literatures. We sketch a theoretical proposal that places the burden of the explanation on attentional dynamics in
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  Flexible Conceptual Projection of TimeOnto Spatial Frames of Reference Ana Torralbo a , Julio Santiago b , Juan Lupiáñez b a  Departamento de Metodología, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, Spain b  Dept. de Psicología Experimental y Fisiología del Comportamiento, Universidad de Granada, Spain Received 9 August 2005; received in revised form 24 November 2005; accepted 5 December 2005 Abstract Flexibilityinconceptualprojectionconstitutesoneofthemostchallengingissuesintheembodimentand conceptual metaphor literatures. We sketch a theoretical proposal that places the burden of the ex-planation on attentional dynamics in interaction with mental models in working memory that are con-strained to be maximally coherent. A test of this theory is provided in the context of the conceptual pro- jection of time onto the domain of space. Participants categorized words presented at different spatiallocations(back–front,left–right)asreferringtothepastortothefuture.Responseswerefasterwhentheirrelevant word location was congruent with the back–past, front–future metaphoric mapping. More-over, when a new highly task-relevant spatial frame of reference was introduced, it changed the projec-tion of past and future onto space in a way that was congruent with the new frame (past was now pro- jected to left space and future to right space), as predicted by the theory. This study shows that there issubstantial flexibility in conceptual projection and opens a venue to study metaphoric variation acrosstasks, individuals, and cultures as the result of attentional dynamics. Keywords:  Conceptual projection; Metaphor; Embodiment; Attentional flexibility; Time; Space 1. Introduction People often talk about time as if it were a spatial dimension, with past, present, and futurelocated at different points of space (e.g., “That was a long time back”; “You should look for-wardtoyourgraduation”;“Weareyearsaheadofthem”).Thismightjustbeacuriosityoftem-poral thinking, but time is only one among many examples of abstract semantic domains thatwe apparently conceptualize in more concrete terms both in everyday conversation (Lakoff &Johnson, 1980) and gesture (McNeill, 1992). The conceptual metaphor view indeed holds that Cognitive Science 30 (2006) 745–757Copyright © 2006 Cognitive Science Society, Inc. All rights reserved.Correspondence should be addressed to Julio Santiago, Dept. de Psicología Experimental y Fisiología delComportamiento, Facultad de Psicología, Universidad de Granada, Campus de Cartuja, Granada, Spain. E-mail:santiago@ugr.es  all abstract concepts are built on the foundation of a set of basic image schemas, which are ac-quired through universal patterns of bodily interactions with the world (Lakoff & Johnson,1999; Mandler, 1992). Abstract conceptual domains are projected or mapped onto these moreconcrete domains. By virtue of this conceptual projection, a good deal of structure is importedinto the abstract domain and then used to support thinking and reasoning. In this framework,our understanding of the flow of time as movement from a past behind to a future in front of usmaybebasedontheuniversalexperienceofmovingforwardfromoneorigintoanendpointinspace.However, direct experimental evidence on the conceptual metaphor view is still scant, andavailableevidenceisoftenbasedonofflinetasks(Murphy,1997)andlimitedtoafewdomains.Itiswellestablishedthatnumbersarerepresentedanalogicallyalongaspatialnumberlinerun-ning from left to right (Hubbard, Piazza, Pinel, & Dehaene, 2005). Recent work by Casasantoand Boroditsky (2003) showed that spatial displacement biases temporal judgments: Longermovementsseemtolastlonger.Inlanguagecomprehension,manystudiesshowthatsentenceswithconcretemeaningsareunderstoodbymeansofmodality-specificmentalsimulations(seeBarsalou, 2003, and Pecher & Zwaan, 2004, for recent reviews), but only a handful of studieshavetouchedonabstractmeaning.Richardson,Spivey,Barsalou,andMcRae(2003)usedsen-tences with verbs holding a concrete or abstract relation to a horizontal schema (e.g.,  push  or want  ) and to a vertical schema (  float   or  respect  ). Glenberg and Kaschak (2002) used sentencesthat held a concrete or abstract relation to an action toward the body (“Open the drawer” or“Liztoldyouastory”)orawayfromthebody(“Closethedrawer”or“YoutoldLizastory”).Inthesestudies,bothconcreteandabstractsentencemeaningequallyaffectedtheperformanceof a concurrent but irrelevant task with the corresponding spatial and motor components (detect-ing stimuli in up–down, left–right positions, or moving a hand toward or away from the body).These results are congruent with spatial conceptual metaphors being used to understand themeaning of the abstract verbs.Therefore,theconceptualmetaphorviewisstartingtoaccruesomepositiveevidence.How-ever, it is unclear how to derive from this view an adequate explanation of the variability inconceptual projections that is observed within most domains. For example, the described timemetaphor takes an ego-moving perspective, mapping past to back space, future to front space,and the passage of time to forward movement. But people can also adopt a different perspec-tive, in which the experiencer stands still and future events frontally approach the experiencerand pass him or her toward the back past (a time-moving perspective, as when we say, “Christ-mas is coming fast”). Boroditsky (2000) showed that it is possible to induce the adoption of one or another perspective by means of analogous spatial primes, suggesting some kind of au-tomatic priming mechanism. Further work (Boroditsky & Ramscar, 2002) hinted that con-scious attention to current spatial experiences may modulate the changes in metaphoric per-spective induced by spatial primes, and actually it might even be a necessary condition forthemtooccur.Suchconclusionfollowsfromtheobservationthatpeoplearemorelikelytotakean ego-moving perspective to perform a temporal judgment at the beginning and the end of atrain trip than during the middle, a moment in which people relax and do not think so activelyabout their travel.The conceptual metaphor view might be adapted to account for this kind of perspectivechange within a given space–time mapping. Lakoff and Johnson (1999, p. 149) suggested that 746  A. Torralbo, J. Santiago, J. L Lupiáñez/Cognitive Science 30 (2006)  spatialconceptualmetaphorsoftencomeinpairsthatarefigure-groundreversalsofeachother(a property they name  duality ). In the ego-moving perspective, the ego is the figure and time isthe ground, whereas in the time-moving perspective, times are figures and the ego is theground. This property is actually a property of the source domain of movement in space, and itis inherited by many conceptual metaphors that project onto this source domain.However, not all alternative mappings can be reduced to figure-ground reversals. For exam-ple, time can also be mapped to the horizontal left–right dimension, with past being mappedontoleftspaceandfutureontorightspaceinleft-to-rightwritingcultures(Santiago,Lupiáñez,Pérez, & Funes, 2006; Tversky, Kugelmass, & Winter, 1991). Furthermore, time can be struc-tured by means of nonspatial metaphors such as TIME IS MONEY (Levine, 1997). All thesealternative projections coexist within a single mind, language, and culture. Finally, there isstrong cross-linguistic and cross-cultural variation in the predominant metaphoric projections(Boroditsky,2001;Levine,1997;Radden,2004).Bothwithintheconceptualmetaphorandtheembodimentliteraturesasenseofgroundingisoftenusedinwhichunderstandingandthinkingaboutabstractconceptsisdoneviaaputativedirectconnectiontoperceptualandmotorexperi-ences (e.g., Barsalou & Wiemer-Hastings, 2004; Lakoff & Johnson, 1999). However, if ab-stract concepts are structured through metaphoric projections from more concrete domains,down to the level of basic image schemas arising from universal perceptual–motor experi-ences, why is there such a wide variability in conceptual projection both on a mo-ment-by-moment basis and across languages and cultures (Rakova, 2002)? What are the inter-vening factors that lead to the selection of one or another mapping? It is generally agreed thathabitual patterns of speaking may play an important role across languages (Boroditsky, 2001;Casasantoetal.,2004),butthiscannotaccountformoment-by-momentchangesinconceptualprojections. This issue is in need of a systematic exploration, and this research constitutes afirst step in that direction.We believe that attentional factors may be the key to understanding both flexible onlinechanges in conceptual projection and more stable long-term associations stored in semanticmemory as a result of habitual application of certain mappings. A detailed theoretical accountof how attention intervenes in the process of conceptual projection cannot be spelled out heredue to space limitations and will have to await a longer article (Santiago & Román, 2006). Toput it briefly, we assume that conceptual projections occur online in working memory, as theresult of the simultaneous activation of the two conceptual domains and the application of asearch-for-coherence mechanism. Prestored conceptual mappings may exist in long-termmemory, and they can be used to guide the conceptual projection in working memory, depend-ing on a number of factors.Workingmemorycontainsstructuraldimensionsandimageschemas,aswellasconcreteel-ements placed on those dimensions. The coherence mechanism applies on the total set of con-tents of the mental workplace at a given time. Its goal is to attain global coherence—a descrip-tion that maximizes the satisfaction of the many constraints that these contents place on eachother, at the same time minimizing storage cost and processing load (something akin to therules that guide the mesh of affordances in Glenberg, 1997, and similar constraints of goodshapeinseveralothertheories).Intheprocess,contentsmaybeaddedordeleted,structuraldi-mensions conflated, and so on. The result is a mental model (Johnson-Laird, 1983) that can berun to generate more inferences and support reasoning.  A. Torralbo, J. Santiago, J. L Lupiáñez/Cognitive Science 30 (2006)  747  Attentioncanbeguidedbothautomaticallyandvoluntarily,anditaffects(a)whichcontentsare activated to the level of entering into working memory and interacting with other contentsinthesearchforamaximallycoherentgestalt;and(b)thechoiceofadeictic 1 viewpoint,focus,and perspective on that gestalt. A number of factors can automatically attract attention to, andincrease the level of activation of, a given element or part of the working memory representa-tion, such as task demands, intrinsic salience (e.g., Franklin & Tversky, 1990, for the verticaldimension), and sudden changes (see Ruz & Lupiáñez, 2002, for a review on attentional cap-ture).Voluntarywillandendogenouslycontrolledfactorsmayalsoboostthelevelofactivationof a given representation (Jonides, 1981; Posner, 1980).After a given cross-domain mapping has been set up in working memory, a memory traceremains in long-term memory. Once a mapping has been stored, there will be a trend towardusing it again in the future, which will grow stronger with repeated use, leading to the estab-lishment of a complex cross-domain schema in long-term memory and a higher probability of activating it as a whole whenever each of its components is called up to working memory.However, nothing precludes the storage of conflicting mappings in long-term memory underthis theory. It is only in working memory that the coherence mechanism works to make surethat there are no conflicts among the contents of the mental workplace. This account also pre-dicts that new conceptual mappings should be easily learned, even if they conflict with preex-isting ones, an idea which already has some supporting evidence (Boroditsky, 2001).Although sketchy, this account already licenses some predictions, and the goal of our re-search is to submit them to a straightforward test. First, we wanted to show that people haveavailable two alternative mappings of time onto space in their long-term memory, but that theywould use only one in a situation that allows both of them. Second, the chosen mapping wouldbe the one leading to a more globally coherent working memory representation. Therefore, wemanipulated the presence or absence of an irrelevant task factor that would affect the choice of conceptual mapping only by virtue of its interaction with other contents of working memorywhen the search-for-coherence mechanism is applied. Apart from changing the conceptualmapping, other aspects of the mental model should also change correspondingly, chiefly, thedeictic srcin, suggesting that the change is not local but global in nature (see Markman &Brendl, 2005).Todoso,inafirstexperimentwepresentedasilhouetteofahumanheadinsideview(look-ing either rightward or leftward) centered on a screen, with a word within a balloon either infrontoforbehindthesilhouette(seeFig.1).Allwordshadatemporalconnotation,andpartici-pantswereaskedtojudgewhetherthe“person”(i.e.,thesilhouette)wasthinkingofthepastorthe future. Vocal responses were used. If future time is mapped onto front space, future wordspresented in front of the face should be responded to faster than words presented behind. Theconverse holds for past words. Note that this mapping needs the deictic srcin to be movedfrom the observer onto the silhouette, so that its front–back dimension, and not the partici-pant’s, is used. Note also that the situation allows the application of an alternative mapping of time onto space: As words are presented to the left and right of the center of the screen, theleft–right spatial dimension could also be used, leading to map past onto left space and futureonto right space (Santiago et al, 2006). However, we predicted that this dimension would notbe used in Experiment 1, as its intrinsic salience is low (Franklin & Tversky, 1990), the task does not demand its use, and it is not being voluntarily focused. 748  A. Torralbo, J. Santiago, J. L Lupiáñez/Cognitive Science 30 (2006)  In a second experiment we modified the task by asking participants to press a left or rightkey to indicate their temporal categorization, instead of giving vocal responses. The need toguidemanualresponding,wehypothesized,wouldautomaticallyattractattentionandincreasethelevelofactivationofaleft–righthorizontalspatialframeofreferencecenteredinthepartic-ipant’sbody.Weexpectedthatthisframe,whichishighlyrelevantforthetaskbutirrelevantforthepast–futurejudgment,wouldnowachieveenoughsaliencetoaffecttheinteractionsthatre-sult in a globally coherent description of the situation in working memory. The increased sa-lience of the left–right dimension may carry along a corresponding change in deictic srco,such that now the dominant perspective would take the viewpoint of the participant. All thesechangeswouldrenderthesilhouette-centeredfront–backdimensionhighlyinconsistentwithinthe global situation, leading to a reduced use of this dimension as a target for conceptual pro- jection. At the same time, coding word position on the screen in a left–right spatial framewould be consistent with the left–right frame centered in the participant and the new deicticviewpoint.Thisshouldbiastheconceptualprojectionoftimeontospacetowardtheotheralter-nativeavailableinlong-termmemory,suchthatnowpastwouldbemappedontoleftspaceandfuture onto right space. 2. Experiment 1 2.1. Participants Thirty undergraduate students of psychology at the University of Granada participated forcourse credit. All of them were native Spanish speakers.  A. Torralbo, J. Santiago, J. L Lupiáñez/Cognitive Science 30 (2006)  749Fig. 1 Trial structure.
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