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Can mirror reading reverse the flow of time? Evidence from Japanese speakers

  • Yang, Wenxing1
  • Feng, Xueqin1
  • Jin, Jing’ai1
  • Liu, Yuting1
  • Sun, Ying1
  • 1 Yangzhou University, 196 West Huayang Road, Yangzhou, Jiangsu Province, 225127, China , Yangzhou (China)
Published Article
Psicologia: Reflexão e Crítica
Springer International Publishing
Publication Date
Aug 11, 2020
DOI: 10.1186/s41155-020-00156-7
Springer Nature


Accumulating evidence over the last two decades has established the causal role of a unidirectional orthography in shaping speakers’ mental representations of time. Casasanto and Bottini (Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143, 473-479, 2014) extended previous findings by showing that exposure to mirror-reversed orthography of speakers’ native language could completely redirect their mental timelines within minutes. However, the question of whether such a causal effect of writing direction on temporal cognition can be identified in speakers whose native languages adopt bidirectional orthographies remains underexplored in the literature. To address this issue, the present study focused on Japanese which uses bidirectional writing systems, one proceeding horizontally from left to right (HLR) and one vertically from top to bottom (VTB). Two experiments were performed, and the tasks asked participants to process standard/mirror orthography prime questions about time arranged horizontally or vertically, followed by horizontal or vertical arrays of pictorial target stimuli about temporal relations. Results demonstrated that Japanese speakers encoded passage of time into a top-to-bottom linear path commensurate with the VTB writing direction, but they did not align their mental representations of time with the HLR writing orientation. Accordingly, exposure to mirror-reversed bidirectional orthographies redirected Japanese speakers’ vertical but not horizontal space-time mappings. Theoretical implications concerning the causal effects of bidirectional orthographies and the generalizability of the representational flexibility of time maintained by Casasanto and Bottini (Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143, 473-479) are discussed.

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