Sunday, February 21, 2010

From George Lakoff

The experimental results confirming our theories of embodied cognition have been coming in regularly, especially in the area of metaphorical thought. Natalie Angier, on February 1, summarized some of the recent research very clearly.

  • A University of Amsterdam study showed that subjects thinking about the future leaned forward, while those thinking about the past leaned backward. This was predicted by the 1980 analysis of common European metaphors in which The Future is Ahead and The Past is Behind. This is not just a matter of language, but of thought, as Johnson and I showed.
  • At Yale, researchers found that subjects holding warm coffee in advance were more likely to evaluate an imaginary individual as warm and friendly than those holding cold coffee. This is predicted by the conceptual metaphor that Affection is Warmth, as in She gave me a warm greeting.
  • At Toronto, subjects were asked to remember a time when they were either socially accepted or socially snubbed. Those with warm memories of acceptance judged the room to be 5 degrees warmer on the average than those who remembered being coldly snubbed.
  • Subjects asked to think about a moral transgression like adultery or cheating on a test were more likely to request an antiseptic cloth after the experiment than those who had thought about good deeds. The well-known conceptual metaphor Morality is Purity predicts this behavior.
  • Students told that that a particular book was important judged it to be physically heavier than a book that they were told was unimportant. The conceptual metaphor is Important is Heavy.
  • In a parallel study with heavy versus light clipboards, those with the heavy clipboards were more likely like to judge currency to be more valuable and their opinions and their leaders more important.
  • And in doing arithmetic, students who used their hands to group numbers together had an easier time doing problems that required conceptual grouping. This is predicted by the analysis of mathematics in Where Mathematics Comes From by myself and Rafael Núñez where we show how mathematics from the simple to the advanced is based on embodied metaphorical cognition.

These results don’t happen by magic. How can these results be explained?

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