Grammar, Gender and Demonstratives in Lateralized Imagery for Sentences

  • Mikkel WallentinEmail author
  • Roberta Rocca
  • Sofia Stroustrup


We investigated biases in the organization of imagery by asking participants to make stick-figure drawings of sentences containing a man, a woman and a transitive action (e.g. she kisses that guy). Previous findings show that prominent features of meaning and sentence structure are placed to the left in drawings, according to reading direction (e.g. Stroustrup and Wallentin in Lang Cogn 10(2):193–207, 2018. Five hundred thirty participants listened to sentences in Danish and made eight drawings each. We replicated three findings: (1) that the first mentioned element is placed to the left more often, (2) that the agent in the sentence is placed to the left, and (3) that the grammatical subject is placed to the left of the object. We further tested hypotheses related to deixis and gender stereotypes. By adding demonstratives (e.g. Danish equivalents of this and that), that have been found to indicate attentional prominence, we tested the hypothesis that this is also translated into a left-ward bias in the produced drawings. We were unable to find support for this hypothesis. Analyses of gender biases tested the presence of a gender identification and a gender stereotype effect. According to the identification hypothesis, participants should attribute prominence to their own gender and draw it to the left, and according to the stereotype effect participants should be more prone to draw the male character to the left, regardless of own gender. We were not able to find significant support for either of the two gender effects. The combination of replications and null-findings suggest that the left-ward bias in the drawing experiment might be narrowly tied to left-to-right distribution in written language and less to overall prominence. No effect of handedness was observed.


Imagery Reading direction Grammar Gender Demonstratives 



The experiment was funded via a seed-funding grant from the Interacting Minds Centre at Aarhus University. Funding for Roberta Rocca was provided by the DCOMM Grant the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions Grant Agreement No. 676063. We wish to thank students and staff from Stenhus Gymnasium and VUC Aarhus for their cooperation, especially Peter Fink and Søren Gubi Axelsen for their help with coordinating testing. We also wish to thank Anders Munch and Kim Stroustrup for helping with data collection and Liisalotte Elme and Arnault-Quentin Vermillet for their help with data coding.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Linguistics, Cognitive Science and SemioticsAarhus UniversityAarhusDenmark
  2. 2.Center of Functionally Integrative NeuroscienceAarhus University HospitalAarhus CDenmark
  3. 3.Interacting Minds CentreAarhus UniversityAarhusDenmark

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