Power, gender, and individual differences in spatial metaphor: The role of perceptual stereotypes and language statistics

Winter, Bodo, Duffy, Sarah and Littlemore, Jeannette (2020) Power, gender, and individual differences in spatial metaphor: The role of perceptual stereotypes and language statistics. Metaphor and Symbol, 35 (3). pp. 188-205. ISSN 1092-6488

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Official URL: https://doi.org/10.1080/10926488.2020.1794319


English speakers use vertical language to talk about power, such as when speaking of people being “at the bottom of the social hierarchy” or “rising to the top.” Experimental research has shown that people automatically associate higher spatial positions with more powerful social groups, such as doctors and army generals, compared to lower spatial positions, which are associated with relatively less powerful groups, such as nurses and soldiers. However, power as a social dimension is also associated with gender. Here, by means of a reaction-time study and a corpus study, we show that professions that display greater gender asymmetries, such as doctor/nurse, exhibit stronger vertical associations. Moreover, we show that people’s perception of vertical metaphors for power depends on their own gender, with male participants having stronger vertical biases than female participants, which we propose is due to the fact that men are more prone to thinking about power in bodily terms, and to associate it with physical dominance. Our results provide clear evidence for individual differences in metaphor comprehension, thus demonstrating empirically that the same metaphor is understood differently by different people.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: social role theory, vocational preferences, metaphor comprehension
Subjects: Q100 Linguistics
Q300 English studies
Q900 Others in Linguistics, Classics and related subjects
Department: Faculties > Arts, Design and Social Sciences > Humanities
Depositing User: Rachel Branson
Date Deposited: 30 Jun 2020 09:18
Last Modified: 15 Oct 2021 03:30
URI: http://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/43608

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