Being in front is good—but where is in front? Preferences for spatial referencing affect evaluation
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionCognitive Science. 2020, 44 (6), e12840 https://doi.org/10.1111/cogs.12840
Speakers of English frequently associate location in space with valence, as in moving up and down the “social ladder.” If such an association also holds for the sagittal axis, an object “in front of” another object would be evaluated more positively than the one “behind.” Yet how people conceptualize relative locations depends on which frame of reference (FoR) they adopt—and hence on cross‐linguistically diverging preferences. What is conceptualized as “in front” in one variant of the relative FoR (e.g., translation) is “behind” under another variant (reflection), and vice versa. Do such diverging conceptualizations of an object's location also lead to diverging evaluations? In two studies employing an implicit association test, we demonstrate, first, that speakers of German, Chinese, and Japanese indeed evaluate the object “in front of” another object more positively than the one “behind.” Second, and crucially, the reversal of which object is conceptualized as “in front” involves a corresponding reversal of valence, suggesting an impact of linguistically imparted FoR preferences on evaluative processes.