Visual and verbal processes in metaphor comprehension.

My doctoral project is an experimental investigation of the cognitive mechanisms that enables us to understand figurative language. Metaphors are statements that have "an X is a Y" structure. For instance My job is a prison or Mozart is the pastry chef of composers are statements that are literally untrue, but for humans the convey meaning. We often denote the X as topic and the Y as the vehicle of the metaphor. A striking aspect of metaphor reasoning is how quickly humans pick up on the meaning of the utterances. It is often described as "as getting a fist in the stomach" indicating an immediate experience of the meaning of the metaphor. The doctoral project starts with an attempt to resolve the controversy about wetter metaphor comprehension involves matching (like in analogue problem solving) or abstraction (like when instances are included in new categories). The second study demonstrates how imagery is involved in comprehension, while the third study explores differences between text based and pictures based metaphors. The results indicate that both categorisation and matching is involved, but related to a temporal goal oriented mechanism denoted "the in depth model". This model also apply to how imagery is involved since there seems to be a race between imagery and verbal processes in uncovering the conveyed meaning of the metaphor. Visual processes seem to play a role both in the on line processing of metaphors and in mechanisms related to distortion or construction of long term memory. Subjects erroneously report to have seen pictures of objects not used in a previous trial one week after working with text material to find metaphorical meanings. This does not happen when they work with the same material to find literal meanings.



Endestad, T. (2001). Shift of mode in metaphor comprehension; from rules to comparisons. Submitted to the European Journal of Cognitive Psychology.

Endestad, T. & Helstrup, T. (2001). The integration of imagery and verbal processes in metaphor comprehension: asymmetry revisited. Submitted to the European Journal of Cognitive Psychology.

Endstad, T. & Magnussen, S. (2001). The distortion of visual long-term memory by metaphorical processing of text. Paper under preparation.


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