Metaphor and readers' attributions of intimacy

William S. Horton*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Previous theorists have suggested that figurative language may be an especially salient means by which speakers and addressees establish and recognize specific feelings of interpersonal closeness. To explore readers' sensitivity to this interpersonal function of figurative language use, brief stories were created that described interactions between two ambiguously related characters. In the course of these conversational narratives, one character always used either a metaphoric or literal referring expression to refer to some antecedent information from the story. Across three experiments, readers consistently judged these story characters as knowing each other better when their interactions contained metaphoric references. Moreover, this occurred even when addressees failed to give explicit evidence of having understood the critical expressions. To the extent that language use highlights assumptions about commonalities, readers may generate inferences about social relationships alongside more meaning-driven comprehension processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)87-94
Number of pages8
JournalMemory and Cognition
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2007

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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