Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Albert Katz


The five experiments in this dissertation examine the social effects of metaphor context production and comprehension. In Studies 1 and 2, participants wrote a meaningful discourse context for metaphorical or literal sentences. Participants providing context for metaphor used more idiomatic emotional expressions, cognitive mechanism words (e.g., “think”) and adverbs. Those responding to the literal prompts used physical descriptions. These results are interpreted in light of research that shows idiomatic expressions and cognitive mechanism words are used to express emotion and signal friendship. In Study 2, use of affective content in the metaphor condition was positively correlated with scores on the Reading the Mind in the Eyes task (Baron-Cohen et al., 2001). Participants in the metaphor group also scored higher on this task compared to the literal group. The Eyes findings show writers in the metaphor condition framed their context to engage an ostensive audience. Studies 3 and 4 consisted of reading short scenarios that ended with metaphorical or literal statements, followed by questions assessing social and emotional inferences of the participants. Participants also completed the Eyes task. Use of metaphor by characters in a story was perceived as more emotionally intense and suggestive of interpersonal closeness. Scores on the Eyes task positively and uniquely correlated with social variables (closeness and emotional intensity) when scenarios ended with metaphor, but not when they ended with literal statements. These correlations show those who perceived metaphor as socially informative were more accurate at identifying emotions in others. Study 5 tested the premise that even out of context, metaphor comprehension proceeds through inferences of an implicit intention (e.g., Katz, 2005; Ritchie, 2006). After reading metaphorical or literal sentences, the participants completed the Eyes task and a non-social, creativity task (wherein participants provided nouns in response to verb prompts). Participants who read metaphor did better on the Eyes task than those who read literal counterparts, supporting the claim that, even out of context, metaphor conveys an interpersonal intention. Additionally, compared to the literal group, participants in the metaphor group provided more “social” words in response to verb prompts. Results are discussed in light of embodied cognition.