Walking Back to the Future: The Impact of Walking Backward and Forward on Spatial and Temporal Concepts

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Embodied cognition frameworks suggest a direct link between sensorimotor experience and cognitive representations of concepts (Shapiro, 2011). We examined whether this holds also true for concepts that cannot be directly perceived with the sensorimotor system (i.e., temporal concepts). To test this, participants learned object-space (Exp. 1) or object-time (Exp. 2) associations. Afterwards, participants were asked to assign the objects to their location in space/time meanwhile they walked backward, forward, or stood on a treadmill. We hypothesized that walking backward should facilitate the online processing of “behind”/“past”-related stimuli, but hinder the processing of “ahead”/“future”-related stimuli, and a reversed effect for forward walking. Indeed, “ahead”- and “future”-related stimuli were processed slower during backward walking. During forward walking and standing, stimuli were processed equally fast. The results provide partial evidence for the activation of specific spatial and temporal concepts by whole-body movements and are discussed in the context of movement familiarity.

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