Are Metaphors Real? – Some Interesting Research

New research suggests there is more to metaphor than using real-life examples to communicate abstract ideas. It goes much deeper…

Many people assume that metaphors are just a way of communicating an abstract idea based on a real-life example.

For example, “I was walking on eggshells” relates the idea of an excessive need for caution, rather than telling us anything about eggshells or walking. It’s a description of a potentially real situation which creates a shared subjective experience so we can easily understand the other person.

A recent study (1) has found that metaphors can be much more than that – and can connect from real to abstract as well as from abstract to real.

Lee and Schwarz examined the metaphor “something smells fishy”, which is commonly related to social suspicion.

  • They found that incidental exposure to a fishy smell undermined cooperation in two trust-based games.
  • They also found that inducing suspicion heightened sensitivity to fishy smells!

The ideas we hold in our awareness may affect us more than we think they do – and our environment may affect our behaviour in many more subtle ways than we ever realised.

Comments are welcome below.

(1) Bidirectionality, Mediation, and Moderation of Metaphorical Effects: The Embodiment of Social Suspicion and Fishy Smells, Lee, Spike W. S.; Schwarz, Norbert, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Aug 20, 2012

Are Metaphors Real? - Some Interesting Research by
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