Why is telling right from left more difficult than telling above from below?

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Reports that adults take longer to judge the locations of horizontal than of vertical stimuli. To determine the source of this difficulty with the horizontal dimension, the congruity between the locations of stimuli and verbal descriptions was judged in a reaction time (RT) task. Because bilateral symmetry of the nervous system may be related to the difficulty with horizontal stimuli, this was varied by using right-handed, left-handed, and ambidextrous Ss (a total of 184 undergraduates in 5 experiments). However, this variable produced no significant effects in the RT task. Horizontal stimuli took longer than vertical, whether the verbal description was encoded before or during the RT periods, suggesting that label encoding is not the entire source of the effect. However, when the verbal labels were eliminated entirely by having Ss learn and use stimulus-letter pairs, horizontal stimuli did not take longer than vertical stimuli. This suggests that perception of the stimulus is not the cause of the difficulty. Together, the experiments indicate that comparing horizontal labels to stimuli is the largest source of the difficulty in telling right from left. The reasons adults have such a problem are discussed. (18 ref) (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved)

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