Conventional metaphors elicit greater real-time engagement than literal paraphrases or concrete sentences

Mon, Serena K. and Nencheva, Mira and Citron, Francesca M.M. and Lew-Williams, Casey and Goldberg, Adele E. (2021) Conventional metaphors elicit greater real-time engagement than literal paraphrases or concrete sentences. Journal of Memory and Language, 121: 104285. ISSN 0749-596X

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Conventional metaphors (e.g., a firm grasp on an idea) are extremely common. A possible explanation for their ubiquity is that they are more engaging, evoking more focused attention, than their literal paraphrases (e.g., a good understanding of an idea). To evaluate whether, when, and why this may be true, we created a new database of 180 English sentences consisting of conventional metaphors, literal paraphrases, and concrete descriptions (e.g., a firm grip on a doorknob). Extensive norming matched differences across sentence types in complexity, plausibility, emotional valence, intensity, and familiarity of the key phrases. Then, using pupillometry to study the time course of metaphor processing, we predicted that metaphors would elicit greater event-evoked pupil dilation compared to other sentence types. Results confirmed the predicted increase beginning at the onset of the key phrase and lasting seconds beyond the end of the sentence. When metaphorical and literal sentences were compared directly in survey data, participants judged metaphorical sentences to convey “richer meaning,” but not more information. We conclude that conventional metaphors are more engaging than literal paraphrases or concrete sentences in a way that is irreducible to difficulty or ease, amount of information, short-term lexical access, or downstream inferences.

Item Type:
Journal Article
Journal or Publication Title:
Journal of Memory and Language
Uncontrolled Keywords:
?? metaphormeaningpupil dilationfocused attentioncomprehensionsentence processingartificial intelligenceneuropsychology and physiological psychologylinguistics and languagelanguage and linguisticsexperimental and cognitive psychology ??
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Deposited On:
19 Aug 2021 08:40
Last Modified:
20 Feb 2024 00:56