Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




Albert Katz

2nd Supervisor

Stephen Lupker



Conceptual Metaphor Theory posits that cross-domain mappings play a fundamental role in thought. However, to date there has been little research investigating the influence of conceptual metaphors in the subdomains of cognitive psychology, such as learning, concepts, and memory, leading critics to argue that conceptual metaphors are not psychologically real. The purpose of this dissertation was to explore whether conceptual metaphors influence episodic memory. In four experiments, a modified version of the Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM) paradigm was employed in which participants studied lists of expressions. Every expression within each list was based on a proposed conceptual metaphor. For example, the TIME IS MONEY list had expressions such as “how did you spend the summer break?”, “budget your hours,” and “is that worth your while?”. Following each list was a recognition test consisting of old (was on the list) and new (was not on the list) items. Critically, some of the new items were expressions that were based on the same conceptual metaphor as the study list (e.g., “that cost me a day”). Other new items were control expressions that talked about a similar topic but were not based on the same metaphor (e.g., “the weekend seems so far away”). In all four experiments, participants were more likely to falsely recognize new expressions that were metaphorically consistent with the study list than control expressions. These experiments demonstrate a clear influence of conceptual metaphors on memory, bolstering the claim that conceptual metaphors are psychologically real. Furthermore, it was found that participants showed the memory effect despite rarely reporting conscious awareness of the conceptual metaphors (Chapter 3). Participants also showed the effect when their attention was divided, which is known to diminish conscious and effortful processing (Chapters 4 and 5). Overall, these experiments provide converging evidence that conceptual metaphors are psychologically real and influence cognition automatically and unconsciously.

Summary for Lay Audience

Metaphors are ubiquitous in language, and much of the everyday language we use is actually metaphorical. For example, a phrase such as “I see your point,” when agreeing to an argument just made, is metaphorical because there is nothing physical to see. Rather, this expression is based on an underlying metaphor that UNDERSTANDING IS SEEING, as are other common expressions such as “look at the big picture” or “we have different views on this issue.” Beginning around the 1980’s, linguists began to consider metaphor not just as a special form of language, but as a fundamental component of thought, what they labeled “conceptual metaphors.” Because abstract concepts or ideas are not experienced directly, they are difficult to understand. Therefore, to understand these concepts we use conceptual metaphors that draw on concrete experiences, such as by comparing thoughts to our visual experiences.

Although linguists have made a compelling case that we use metaphors to think, the idea has not gained as much traction in psychology. Some psychologists argue that there is little experimental evidence that conceptual metaphors play a role in basic psychological phenomena such as problem-solving or memory. The purpose of this dissertation was to conduct psychological experiments to see if metaphor really does influence thought, and in particular, memory. In a series of experiments, I presented participants with lists of expressions that were all based on one underlying hypothesized “conceptual metaphor,” such as UNDERSTANDING IS SEEING. Following each list was a memory test in which several old (i.e., was on the list) and new items (i.e., was not on the list) were presented and participants had to identify the old items. Critically, some of the “new” items were based on the same conceptual metaphor as the old items. In each experiment, I found that participants falsely recognized these items; they thought these items had been presented before even though they were never on the study list. This finding demonstrates that metaphors influence how we remember information, in support of the argument that people use metaphors to think.