Framing the World in Terms of “Left” and “Right” Is Stranger Than You Think

Sometimes it’s the simplest studies that reveal how deeply culture shapes our thinking.

Take a 2009 experiment involving only a researcher, a child, and a two-word instruction.1 The researcher announces, “Let’s dance!” and demonstrates a series of movements: He holds his hands together at eye level and extends them—first to the left, then to the right, then to the left twice, counting with each movement (“One, two, three, four!”). After a few tries, eventually all the children could do the dance on their own. Now comes the test: The researcher spins the child around, to face the other way, and asks her to perform it again. Try this on your friends and they will probably reproduce the dance faithfully—left, right, left, left—as did most of the 50 German children in the study.

But the researchers also tested another group of kids, 35 members of an indigenous hunter-gatherer culture in northern Namibia

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