Publication details [#6344]

Johnson, Andrew Thomas. 1995. Comprehension of metaphors and similes: Reaction time and memory studies. Manhattan, Kans.. 200 pp. URL
Publication type
Book – monograph
Publication language


Prior research has shown that English speakers are able to comprehend concrete metaphors faster than concrete similes. Does this pattern occur for abstract metaphors and similes and does this extend to other languages, e.g., Spanish? The present three experiments examined this as well as response times and memory for metaphors and similes. The comprehension task involved reading the metaphor or simile prime, e.g., "Cigarettes are (like) timebombs" and pressing a key to indicate comprehension. In Experiments 1 and 3, subjects were next presented with a test sentence and asked to judge whether it was context-appropriate or context-inappropriate in comparison with the prime sentence. Upon completion subjects were given a recall memory task. The subject and verb of the prime sentences were provided and subjects were asked to complete the prime sentences. The results from Experiment 1 showed that subjects comprehended both concrete and abstract metaphors consistently faster than concrete and abstract similes. Response time results showed that subjects responded significantly faster to context-appropriate test sentences than to context-inappropriate ones. Subjects recalled the prime sentences significantly more often in a metaphor form than a simile one. Experiment 2 replicated Experiment 1 without the test sentences for a purer memory measure. The same pattern of results occurred as in Experiment 1 with a stronger tendency to recall prime sentences in a metaphor form than a simile one. Experiment 3 replicated Experiment 1 using Spanish materials and Spanish-English bilinguals. The same comprehension and response time patterns were found. However, in recall, Spanish-speaking subjects recalled the prime sentences significantly more often in a simile form than a metaphor form. There was the same overall pattern of results for English and Spanish experiments in comprehension and response time tasks and this supports Glucksberg's Class-inclusion model of metaphor comprehension. Subjects responded to context-appropriate test sentences faster than context-inappropriate ones. Recall was different between English and Spanish-speaking subjects. This may relate to language specific influences. Results like these also suggest that researchers should be careful when generalizing results to another languages. (Dissertation Abstracts)