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Developmental Brownbag Talk

November 13, 2019 - 12:00pm to 1:15pm
Jordan Hall, Room 102


Ben Pitt, Postdoc with Steven Piantadosi, Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley


Origins of abstract thought: How culture shapes concepts of time and number

People use space to conceptualize abstract domains like time and number. In Western cultures, both time and numbers are arranged in people’s minds along an imaginary horizontal line, from left to right, but in other cultures the directions of the mental timeline and mental number line are reversed. How does culture shape our abstract concepts? In this talk, I address this question with data from the lab and from the field. First, in a series of training studies, I show that the mental timeline and mental number line are selectively shaped by different aspects of experience, contra widespread claims to the contrary. Second, in a field study in an unindustrialized Amazonian culture, I show that for people without strong cultural conventions for arranging time and numbers in space (like reading text and doing math), mental mappings of time and number may be direction non-specific. These findings challenge alternative theories of cross-domain associations and support a novel account of how conceptual domains like time and number, universal fixtures of the natural world, are shaped by cultural experience.  
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