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Timeline in China

By on October 24, 2014
Picture courtesy of Stuart Miles and freedigitalphotos.net

Based on our personal experience of dealing with clients’ timeline, we have always told our students that people from South East Asia are often organizing differently as regards their timeline. Timeline refers to how we represent time spatially around us.

Most native English speakers have their past on their left, or behind them, and their future either to their right or in front of them. In contrast, native Hebrew speakers often have their time line reversed with the future on the left nd the past on the right, presumably because English is written from left to right and Hebrew from right to left.

When we teach timeline in our NLP class, students often ask if there is any evidence for these differences and to date we were not aware of any. However we just came upon this fascinating piece of research from Harard University that demonstrates differences in timeline organization.

The research focused on native English and Mandarin speakers. Chinese of course is generally written from top to bottom (although other arrangements are possible). The researchers primed the subjects by showing them pictures of objects where one object was either to the left/right of another, or above/below another. So for example there might be a picture of duck above a rabbit, or a car to the left of a bicycle. The subjects were then given a statement about time, such as April comes earlier then July, and asked whether it was true or false. English speakers who had been primed with left/right arrangements that corresponded to the right answer responded faster, as did Mandarin speakers who had been primed with above/below arrangements. This clever use of priming showed that English speakers do indeed arrange time from left to right, and Mandarin speakers from top to bottom, in general (of course there are exceptions as always).

Here is a link to the original research:

Do English and Mandarin speakers think about time differently?
Lera Boroditsky ⇑, Orly Fuhrman, Kelly McCormick
Stanford University, psych.stanford.edu

Picture courtesy of Stuart Miles and freedigitalphotos.net

The CafeHypno Editorial Team Sarah Carson, Jess Marion and Shawn carson

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