Publication details [#728]

Christian, Britanny M., Lynden K. Miles and C. Neil Macrae. 2012. Your Space or Mine? Mapping Self in Time. PLOS ONE 7 (11) : e49228.
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While humans are capable of mentally transcending the here and now, this faculty for mental time travel (MTT) is dependent upon an underlying cognitive representation of time. To this end, linguistic, cognitive and behavioral evidence has revealed that people understand abstract temporal constructs by mapping them to concrete spatial domains (e.g. past = backward, future = forward). However, very little research has investigated factors that may determine the topographical characteristics of these spatiotemporal maps. Guided by the imperative role of episodic content for retrospective and prospective thought (i.e., MTT), here we explored the possibility that the spatialization of time is influenced by the amount of episodic detail a temporal unit contains. In two experiments, participants mapped temporal events along mediolateral (Experiment 1) and anterioposterior (Experiment 2) spatial planes. Importantly, the temporal units varied in self-relevance as they pertained to temporally proximal or distal events in the participant’s own life, the life of a best friend or the life of an unfamiliar other. Converging evidence from both experiments revealed that the amount of space used to represent time varied as a function of target (self, best friend or unfamiliar other) and temporal distance. Specifically, self-time was represented as occupying more space than time pertaining to other targets, but only for temporally proximal events. These results demonstrate the malleability of space-time mapping and suggest that there is a self-specific conceptualization of time that may influence MTT as well as other temporally relevant cognitive phenomena