New Space–Time Metaphors Foster New Nonlinguistic Representations

Topics in Cognitive Science 9 (3):800-818 (2017)
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What is the role of language in constructing knowledge? In this article, we ask whether learning new relational language can create new ways of thinking. In Experiment 1, we taught English speakers to talk about time using new vertical linguistic metaphors, saying things like “breakfast is above dinner” or “breakfast is below dinner”. In Experiment 2, rather than teaching people new metaphors, we relied on the left–right representations of time that our American college student participants have already internalized through a lifetime of visuospatial experience reading and writing text from left to right. In both experiments, we asked whether the representations are susceptible to verbal interference. We found that learning new metaphors created new space–time associations that could be detected in a nonlinguistic implicit association task; these newly learned representations were not susceptible to verbal interference; and with respect to both verbal and visual interference, representations newly learned from linguistic metaphor behaved just like those on the left–right axis that our participants had acquired through years of visuospatial experience. Taken together, these results suggest that learning new relational language can be a powerful tool in constructing new representations and expanding our cognitive repertoire.



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