The Evolution of Mental Metaphors in Psychology. A 90-Year Retrospective

Dedre Gentner*, Jonathan Grudin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

89 Scopus citations


It seems plausible that the conception of the mind has evolved over the first hundred years of psychology in America. In this research, we studied this evolution' by tracing changes in the kinds of metaphors used by psychologists to describe mental phenomena. A corpus of metaphors from 1894 to the present was collected and examined. The corpus consisted of all metaphors for mental phenomena used in the first issue of Psychological Review in each decade, beginning with the inception of the journal in 1894 and continuing with 1905, 1915, and so on through 1975. These nine issues yielded 265 mental metaphors, which were categorized according to the type of analogical domain from which the comparison was drawn. The chief finding was that the nature of the mental metaphors changed over time. Spatial metaphors and animate-being metaphors predominated in the early stages, then declined in favor of systems metaphors, often taken from mathematics and the physical sciences. A secondary finding was that the numbers of mental metaphors varied. Metaphors for mental phenomena were more prevalent in the early and late stages of the corpus than in the middle stages (1935 to 1955). These patterns are interpreted in terms of conceptual evolution in psychologists' models of the mind.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)181-192
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Psychologist
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1985

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)


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