Time drawings: Spatial representation of temporal concepts

Conscious Cogn. 2018 Mar:59:10-25. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2018.01.005. Epub 2018 Feb 4.


Time representation is a fundamental property of human cognition. Ample evidence shows that time (and numbers) are represented in space. However, how the conceptual mapping varies across individuals, scales, and temporal structures remains largely unknown. To investigate this issue, we conducted a large online study consisting in five experiments that addressed different time scales and topology: Zones of time, Seasons, Days of the week, Parts of the day and Timeline. Participants were asked to map different kinds of time events to a location in space and to determine their size and color. Results showed that time is organized in space in a hierarchical progression: some features appear to be universal (i.e. selection order), others are shaped by how time is organized in distinct cultures (i.e. location order) and, finally, some aspects vary depending on individual features such as age, gender, and chronotype (i.e. size and color).

Keywords: Individual differences; STARC effect; Time representation; Writing direction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Concept Formation / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Time*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*
  • Young Adult