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Automatic and attentional processes in the comprehension of unfamiliar metaphors

Coney, J. and Lange, A. (2006) Automatic and attentional processes in the comprehension of unfamiliar metaphors. Current Psychology, 25 (2). pp. 93-119.

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The present study employed priming techniques to investigate whether unfamiliar metaphors are understood automatically, or whether controlled processes are required for comprehension. Priming sentences were presented to 76 participants in a naming task and vocal RT (reaction time) to target words was recorded. Target words were associates of the 120 metaphors used in the stimulus set. SOA (stimulus onset asynchrony) was manipulated in order to permit the measurement of both automatic and attentional priming (375ms, 750ms, and 1,500ms). Four priming conditions enabled a comparison between metaphoric, literal, and neutral contexts, and an unrelated (baseline) condition. The data revealed a strong priming effect for metaphors at an SOA of 1,500ms, but no effects at either of the shorter SOAs. These results indicate that, in the absence of supporting context, unfamiliar metaphors are not processed automatically. Comprehension of such linguistic phenomena apparently requires attentional processing. The findings have implications for direct processing theories of metaphor comprehension.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Psychology
Publisher: Springer-Verlag
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