Forwards and Upwards

Perhaps appropriately at the very beginning of this blog, I’m going to talk first about the psychology of direction and orientation: how we look back to the past and forward to the future.

Studies have shown that if you sit on a train and you move forwards, your mind turns to the future. If, on the other hand, you feel like you’re going backwards, you think of the past.

So why is this?

It’s because of the way we perceive time. A straight arrow running from the past behind us, forwards to the future.

Terry Pratchett’s fantastical race of trolls have a bluntly logical view of time – that as the past is behind us, and can be seen, and the future is in front of us and cannot be seen, we must all be going through time facing backwards.

Lakoff & Johnson explore the way we orientate ourselves in their Metaphors We Live By.

For instance:

For instance, we associate UP with good things – “going up in the world”, “rising star”, “at the top of his game” – and DOWN with bad.
Even the Christian perception of the world is that Heaven (and God) are UP while Hell (and Satan) must be DOWN.
(I’d be interested to hear if any other cultures perceive it differently? I suspect a few might.)

Another study showed that if you’re on a slightly higher chair in a meeting than the rest of your colleagues, you tend to make more decisions, and act more like a leader.

My banker friend tells me that the office is ordered hierarchically, so that the boss is a few levels above the junior analysts, even when the view isn’t that different between the 40th and 45th floors. And they’re all annoyed their new office results in being ‘downgraded’ a few levels in the new building.

Why is the penthouse the best flat in the building?
In the times with stairs, it was the least expensive, because no one wanted to climb all those steps.
When lifts came in, it became the most.
What’s the difference between being on the 82nd floor, and being on the 83rd floor?
Only that we associate ‘being at the top’ with physically being at the top.

So if you enjoyed this high-minded, high-quality post, look me up in the future for the next instalment…


4 thoughts on “Forwards and Upwards”

  1. I thought that was a very interesting read and something that I’d never really thought about before! I wonder how sitting sideways (on the seats you occasionally get on buses/trains) affects your thought patterns though?! Behavioural psychology is a fascinating area….i look forward to more posts!

    1. haha no way! This blog got me thinking the exact same thing when I was sitting on a sideways seat on a bus. I guess its usually what people think on trains on the tube. “Why is this person staring at me?” “Let me check where I’m going on the tube map for the millionth time” “Oh look someone’s armpit in my face.” etc etc

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