The mental imagination of (social) actions has been shown to follow a left-to-right trajectory, with the thematic agent associated with the left position (Spatial Agency Bias, Suitner & Maass, 2016). For example, individuals asked to choose a picture that visualizes the sentence “Tom kicks George.” tend to choose an image where the agent, Tom, is positioned on the left-hand side rather than on the righthand side. However, alternative to the thematic role of the agent, such findings may reflect a mental representation following pragmatic relevance. Specifically, a pragmatic perspective holds that word order and syntactic functions are strategic devices to communicate that the element is important for the sentence. Thus, positioning in the described picture-matching task may actually reflect the agent’s pragmatic relevance instead of agency per se. For a test, we vary whether sentences are written in active versus passive voice. Results from five studies indicate that passive voice results in the tendency to place the agent on the right-hand side rather than on the left-hand side of a picture. Instead, the acted-upon person is positioned on the left-hand side of a picture. A sixth experiment reveals that for passive voice, the agent is still seen as more agentic than the receiver, but is considered less relevant. The findings are congruent with the proposed pragmatic relevance account. Implications for the Spatial Agency Bias as well as for building mental representations in general are discussed.

What is agentic about the Spatial Agency Bias? How pragmatic relevance contributes to the spatial representations of actions

Caterina Suitner
Membro del Collaboration Group
;
2020

Abstract

The mental imagination of (social) actions has been shown to follow a left-to-right trajectory, with the thematic agent associated with the left position (Spatial Agency Bias, Suitner & Maass, 2016). For example, individuals asked to choose a picture that visualizes the sentence “Tom kicks George.” tend to choose an image where the agent, Tom, is positioned on the left-hand side rather than on the righthand side. However, alternative to the thematic role of the agent, such findings may reflect a mental representation following pragmatic relevance. Specifically, a pragmatic perspective holds that word order and syntactic functions are strategic devices to communicate that the element is important for the sentence. Thus, positioning in the described picture-matching task may actually reflect the agent’s pragmatic relevance instead of agency per se. For a test, we vary whether sentences are written in active versus passive voice. Results from five studies indicate that passive voice results in the tendency to place the agent on the right-hand side rather than on the left-hand side of a picture. Instead, the acted-upon person is positioned on the left-hand side of a picture. A sixth experiment reveals that for passive voice, the agent is still seen as more agentic than the receiver, but is considered less relevant. The findings are congruent with the proposed pragmatic relevance account. Implications for the Spatial Agency Bias as well as for building mental representations in general are discussed.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11577/3367830
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