Evidence for Role-Neutral Initial Processing of Metaphors

Phillip Wolff*, Dedre Gentner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Two models of metaphor processing are contrasted. The structure-mapping model postulates an initially role-neutral alignment process, followed by directional projection of inferences. The attributive categorization model postulates role-specific processing throughout comprehension. To test between these models, the early stages of metaphor comprehension were probed using a technique based on S. Glucksberg, P. Gildea, and H. Bookin's (1982) finding that metaphorical meaning interferes with literal truthfulness judgments. In Experiment 1, interference effects did not differ between normal metaphors and metaphors with reversed terms, suggesting that initial processing is role-neutral. In Experiment 2, we again found no role dependence in interference effects, even for highly conventional metaphors. In Experiment 3, it was verified that (a) full comprehension is role-sensitive and (b) full comprehension reaction times (RTs) are far longer than interference RTs, buttressing the claim that interference is an early-stage effect. Overall, the results support the structure-mapping model of metaphor processing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)529-541
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Learning Memory and Cognition
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language


Dive into the research topics of 'Evidence for Role-Neutral Initial Processing of Metaphors'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this