Linking Minds with Metaphor


Metaphor is more than a figure of speech; it is a figure a thought. In fact, theories on embodied cognition have shown that the human conceptual system is inherently metaphorical – both physical and abstract concepts are learned through the sensorimotor system, with more abstract concepts relating to the more physical ones through a common experiential basis. This connection between concepts that share a common experiential basis is enabled by a cross-domain conceptual mapping that happens automatically in typically-developing individuals. This mapping, however, seems to be missing in autistic individuals.

Past studies have shown that autistic individuals have difficulty in metaphor comprehension. Interestingly, the key impairment that characterizes autistic spectrum disorder is a social deficit in reading and communicating intention. If, indeed, metaphor entails cross-domain conceptual mapping, is it possible that intention communication can also be explained by a mapping between the mental representation of a sender and that of a receiver? Intention communication happens when the two representations are in sync, and when the link between this mapping is missing, intention communication also breaks down.

Following the above reasoning, the proposed project explores the following questions: (1) How does performance in metaphor comprehension relate to performance in theory of mind? (2) Does materializing thoughts make intention reading easier? (3) Does perceptual similarity between the sender and the receiver make intention reading easier? The answers to these questions can provide insights into the possibility that theory of mind can be intervened and achieved through metaphor training.


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© Charlotte Lou, 2017.