Metaphors and the human mind

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Did you know that sipping a hot cup of tea might make you literally feel more warmly toward the person you're with? That's among the thoughts proposed in "Thinking Literally: The surprising way that metaphors shape your world", in today's Boston Globe. Could this have implications for meetings? Oh yeah. And there's now research to back it up, at least preliminarily. From the article:

A new group of people has started to take an intense interest in metaphors: psychologists. Drawing on philosophy and linguistics, cognitive scientists have begun to see the basic metaphors that we use all the time not just as turns of phrase, but as keys to the structure of thought. By taking these everyday metaphors as literally as possible, psychologists are upending traditional ideas of how we learn, reason, and make sense of the world around us. The result has been a torrent of research testing the links between metaphors and their physical roots, with many of the papers reading as if they were commissioned by Amelia Bedelia, the implacably literal-minded children’s book hero. Researchers have sought to determine whether the temperature of an object in someone’s hands determines how ”warm” or ”cold” he considers a person he meets, whether the heft of a held object affects how ”weighty” people consider topics they are presented with, or whether people think of the powerful as physically more elevated than the less powerful.

What they have found is that, in fact, we do. Metaphors aren’t just how we talk and write, they’re how we think. At some level, we actually do seem to understand temperament as a form of temperature, and we expect people’s personalities to behave accordingly. What’s more, without our body’s instinctive sense for temperature--or position, texture, size, shape, or weight--abstract concepts like kindness and power, difficulty and purpose, and intimacy and importance would simply not make any sense to us.

Go read the article. It is fascinating. (And the English major in me feels vindicated, too! Or maybe it's only because I was drinking coffee when I read it that I feel so hot for this idea?)

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