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Psychol Sci. 2003 Jul;14(4):296-301.

Directional bias in the mental representation of spatial events: nature or culture?

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Dipartimento di Psicologia dello Sviluppo e della Socializzazione, University of Padova, Padova, Italy.


Previous research has shown a tendency for people to imagine simple sentences as evolving from left to right, with the sentence subject being located to the left of the object. In two cross-cultural studies comparing Italian and Arab participants, we investigated whether this bias is a function of hemispheric specialization or of directionality of written language (left to right in Italian, right to left in Arabic). Both studies found a reversal of directional bias in Arabs. Italians tended to position the subject to the left of the object, and Arabs tended to position the subject to the right of the object (Experiment 1); both groups were facilitated in a sentence-picture matching task when the subject was drawn in the position that it would usually occupy in the written language (left for Italians, right for Arabs; Experiment 2). In Experiment 2, an additional, language-independent facilitation was observed when action evolved from left to right, suggesting that both hemispheric specialization and scanning habit affect visual imaging.

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