Horizontal spatial representations of time: evidence for the STEARC effect

Cortex. 2008 Apr;44(4):454-61. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2007.08.010. Epub 2007 Dec 23.


It is well known that stimuli such as numerals (small vs large) and auditory pitches (low vs high) have spatial characteristics, and that responses to such stimuli are biased by the mental representation of their magnitude. Walsh (2003) has argued that any spatially and action-coded magnitude will yield a relationship between magnitude and space. Here we investigated the spatial representation of 'time' using speeded responses to the onset timing (early vs late) of a probe stimulus following periodic auditory clicks. Participants pressed one of the two response keys depending on whether the timing of a given probe was earlier or later than expected based on the preceding clicks. The results showed that left-side responses to early onset timing were faster than those to late onset timing, whereas right-side responses to late onsets were faster than those to early onsets when the response keys were aligned horizontally. Such a time-response congruity effect was not observed with the vertical alignment of responses. These results suggest that time is represented from left to right along the horizontal axis in space. The existence of a 'mental time line' in space and the spatial-temporal association of response codes (STEARC) effect are discussed.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Concept Formation / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reference Values
  • Spatial Behavior / physiology*
  • Time Perception / physiology*