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Why is the sunny side always up? Explaining the spatial mapping of concepts by language use

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Goodhew, S. C., McGaw, B., & Kidd, E. (2014). Why is the sunny side always up? Explaining the spatial mapping of concepts by language use. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 21(5), 1287-1293. doi:10.3758/s13423-014-0593-6.

Humans appear to rely on spatial mappings to represent and describe concepts. The conceptual cuing effect describes the tendency for participants to orient attention to a spatial location following the presentation of an unrelated cue word (e.g., orienting attention upward after reading the word sky). To date, such effects have predominately been explained within the embodied cognition framework, according to which people’s attention is oriented on the basis of prior experience (e.g., sky → up via perceptual simulation). However, this does not provide a compelling explanation for how abstract words have the same ability to orient attention. Why, for example, does dream also orient attention upward? We report on an experiment that investigated the role of language use (specifically, collocation between concept words and spatial words for up and down dimensions) and found that it predicted the cuing effect. The results suggest that language usage patterns may be instrumental in explaining conceptual cuing.