As time goes by: Evidence for two systems in processing space → time metaphors

Dedre Gentner, Mutsumi Imai, Lera Boroditsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

222 Citations (Scopus)


Temporal language is often couched in spatial metaphors. English has been claimed to have two space→time metaphoric systems: the ego-moving metaphor, wherein the observer's context progresses along the time-line towards the future, and the time-moving metaphor, wherein time is conceived of as a river or conveyor belt on which events are moving from the future to the past. In three experiments, we investigated the psychological status of these metaphors by asking subjects to carry out temporal inferences stated in terms of spatial metaphors. In Experiment 1, we found that subjects were slowed in their processing when the assertions shifted from one spatial metaphoric system to the other. In Experiment 2, we determined that this cost of shifting could not be attributed to local lexical factors. In Experiment 3, we again found this metaphor consistency effect in a naturalistic version of the study in which we asked commonsense time questions of passengers at an airport. The results of the three studies provide converging evidence that people use spatial metaphors in temporal reasoning. Implications for the status of metaphoric systems are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)537-565
Number of pages29
JournalLanguage and Cognitive Processes
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2002 Oct
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Education
  • Linguistics and Language


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