01 April 2010

Thinking in Space, Time, and Body

When shown movies of two snails crawling along parallel paths for different distances or amounts of time, children judged the amount of time a snail took to make its trip based on how far the snail went. That's a sign that the concept of time grows out of spatial knowledge, researchers propose. In this movie clip, young volunteers watched a blue snail crawl a longer distance over a shorter time span than a red snail. _ SN
To probe the relationship between space and time in the developing mind, Daniel Casasanto of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, and colleagues at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and Stanford University showed children movies of two snails racing along parallel paths for different distances or durations. The children judged either the spatial or temporal aspect of each race, reporting which animal went for a longer distance or a longer time.

When asked to judge distance, children had no trouble ignoring time. But when asked to judge time, they had difficulty ignoring the spatial dimension of the event. Snails that moved a longer distance were mistakenly judged to have traveled for a longer time. Children use physical distance to measure of the passage of time. _AlphaGalileo

The new investigation was conducted by a team of researchers based at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, who were led by expert Daniel Casasanto. The group collaborated closely with colleagues based at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, in Greece, and also the Stanford University, in the United States. During the experiments, children were asked to watch animated videos of races between snails, each of the animals located on its own track. The races went on over various distances and durations, and the children were then asked to tell researchers the distance each had traveled. _ Softpedia

This study was conducted with 99 children ages 4 to 10. According to the authors, children of all ages studied were unable to separate the time judgment from the distance traveled by the snail. The author's suggest that children possess deep conceptual links between time and space.

The study was conducted using Greek-speaking children. In the Greek language it is possible to discuss time without using spatial metaphors such as "long" or "short", which are used routinely in English when referring to time spans. (the word span itself is a spatial metaphor) By using Greek speakers, the scientists believe that they side-stepped issues of superficial language metaphorical conceptual conflation.

This Greek-German-American study brings up some interesting issues dealing with metaphorical underpinnings of thought and concepts. When different concepts are inextricably linked -- even beneath the level of spoken and written language -- we are still dealing with metaphors. But these metaphors are pre-verbal, vestigial residues of pre-verbal mental development.

If pre-adolescent children cannot conceptualise time without utlising spatial concepts, they are using pre-verbal metaphors of space to construct time concepts. This apparently occurs automatically and unconsciously.

It will take time to trace the issue to earlier stages of development, since at this time some level of language development appears necessary in order to assess the nature and direction of the child's conceptual linkage.

Such an obstruction will not impede the pursuit of such questions for long.

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