In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Psychological Perspectives on Metaphor

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Textbooks
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Nonlinguistic and Multimodal Metaphors
  • Developmental Research
  • Cognitive Neuroscience Research

Psychology Psychological Perspectives on Metaphor
Brian Bowdle
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0244


Metaphors are commonly defined as figures of speech in which one thing is described in terms of another thing that is notably different. For example, in the metaphor love is a rose, the target term love refers to a human emotion, whereas the source term rose refers to a flowering plant. Metaphor is classified as a type of figurative language (along with idioms, irony, metonymy, and several other forms), and until fairly recently, it was assumed that metaphors and other figures of speech were relatively unimportant aspects of communication. However, it is now recognized that metaphor is pervasive in everyday language, and a growing number of researchers and theorists now view metaphor more as an aspect of thought than of language. Indeed, metaphor has been shown to be involved in knowledge acquisition, conceptual change, abstract reasoning, social persuasion, and even the development of empathy between individuals and groups. It is hardly surprising, then, that metaphor now occupies a central place in many areas of research on cognition and communication. This article begins by listing a number of introductory volumes, anthologies, and journals devoted to metaphor and related forms of figurative language. Next, a lengthy section on theoretical approaches to metaphor processing traces the evolution of different perspectives on the nature of metaphor and discusses a range of important theories and key research studies. This is followed by a section on metaphoric framing in text and discourse, which describes both laboratory and real-world studies of how metaphor is used to structure knowledge and change attitudes. A short section on nonlinguistic and multimodal metaphors covers recent work on metaphor in gesture, visual art, music, and other domains. The next two sections describe developmental research and cognitive neuroscience research on metaphor. Finally, the last section covers practical resources for metaphor research, including guides to research methods and collections of metaphors.

General Overviews and Textbooks

Many books have been written about metaphor over the past few decades, but the seven introductory works listed in this section are especially worth the attention of anyone wishing to gain a basic understanding of metaphor in language and thought. Geary 2011 and Pinker 2007 are written for a general audience. Gibbs 1994 and Glucksberg 2001 are more advanced works intended for anyone with a basic knowledge of psychological science who wishes to better understand the nature of metaphor. Goatly 2011, Kövecses 2010, and Ritchie 2013 are textbooks suitable for both undergraduate and graduate students, but the numerous examples contained in each of these works should also make them of interest to seasoned researchers.

  • Geary, James. 2011. I is an other: The secret life of metaphor and how it shapes the way we see the world. New York: HarperCollins.

    A popular introduction to the topic, this book compellingly argues that metaphor is not only pervasive in everyday language but also plays a central role in how people perceive and understand the world around them.

  • Gibbs, Raymond W. 1994. The poetics of mind: Figurative thought, language, and understanding. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    The first comprehensive overview of metaphor theory and research written from a psychological perspective. Although its coverage of conceptual metaphor theory (see Theoretical Approaches to Metaphor Processing) is now somewhat dated, this book still offers the most exhaustive examination of classic metaphor studies from the 1970s and 1980s.

  • Glucksberg, Sam. 2001. Understanding figurative language: From metaphor to idioms. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195111095.001.0001

    Emphasizing the continuities between figurative and literal language while recognizing the differences, this book draws extensively from the cognitive psychology literature on concepts and categories to make sense of metaphor processing.

  • Goatly, Andrew. 2011. The language of metaphors. 2d ed. New York: Routledge.

    Although this textbook is written primarily for students of linguistics and literary studies, it is well informed by contemporary psychological research on metaphor. One of the most valuable features of this book is the attention it gives to grammatical forms and communicative dimensions of metaphor that have largely been overlooked in psychological studies despite their potential processing implications. Each chapter contains numerous exercises for the reader.

  • Kövecses, Zoltán. 2010. Metaphor: A practical introduction. 2d ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    This textbook offers one of the most accessible yet thorough introductions to conceptual metaphor theory (see Theoretical Approaches to Metaphor Processing). Student exercises are provided throughout, and an extensive glossary is included at the end.

  • Pinker, Steven. 2007. The stuff of thought: Language as a window into human nature. New York: Penguin.

    A popular work of psycholinguistics, this book contains only one chapter about metaphor but does an excellent job of situating the topic within the larger debate on the relationship between language and thought.

  • Ritchie, L. David. 2013. Metaphor. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This textbook provides an exceptionally balanced introduction to the most important psychological and linguistic theories of metaphor, key research findings, and real-world applications. Each chapter includes memorable examples, definitions of key terms, and discussion questions. A glossary is also provided.

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