Up or down? Reading direction influences vertical counting direction in the horizontal plane – a cross-cultural comparison

Article English OPEN
Silke Melanie Goebel (2015)
  • Publisher: Frontiers Media S.A.
  • Journal: Frontiers in Psychology, volume 6 (issn: 1664-1078, eissn: 1664-1078)
  • Related identifiers: doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00228, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00228/full, pmc: PMC4366652
  • Subject: grounded cognition | Psychology | Children | Spatial-numerical association | BF1-990 | Original Research | mental number line | spatial–numerical association | SNARC | physical world account

Most adults and children in cultures where reading text progresses from left to right also count objects from the left to the right side of space. The reverse is found in cultures with a right-to-left reading direction. The current set of experiments investigated whether vertical counting in the horizontal plane is also influenced by reading direction. Participants were either from a left-to-right reading culture (UK) or from a mixed (left-to-right and top-to-bottom) reading culture (Hong Kong). In Experiment 1, native English-speaking children and adults and native Cantonese-speaking children and adults performed three object counting tasks. Objects were presented flat on a table in a horizontal, vertical, and square display. Independent of culture, the horizontal array was mostly counted from left to right. While the majority of English-speaking children counted the vertical display from bottom to top, the majority of the Cantonese-speaking children as well as both Cantonese- and English-speaking adults counted the vertical display from top to bottom. This pattern was replicated in the counting pattern for squares: all groups except the English-speaking children started counting with the top left coin. In Experiment 2, Cantonese-speaking adults counted a square array of objects after they read a text presented to them either in left-to-right or in top-to-bottom reading direction. Most Cantonese-speaking adults started counting the array by moving horizontally from left to right. However, significantly more Cantonese-speaking adults started counting with a top-to-bottom movement after reading the text presented in a top-to-bottom reading direction than in a left-to-right reading direction. Our results show clearly that vertical counting in the horizontal plane is influenced by longstanding as well as more recent experience of reading direction.
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