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Spatial congruity effects reveal metaphors, not markedness


Dolscheid,  Sarah
Neurobiology of Language Department, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;
International Max Planck Research School for Language Sciences, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Dolscheid, S., Graver, C., & Casasanto, D. (2013). Spatial congruity effects reveal metaphors, not markedness. In M. Knauff, M. Pauen, N. Sebanz, & I. Wachsmuth (Eds.), Proceedings of the 35th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (CogSci 2013) (pp. 2213-2218). Austin,TX: Cognitive Science Society. Retrieved from

Spatial congruity effects have often been interpreted as evidence for metaphorical thinking, but an alternative markedness-based account challenges this view. In two experiments, we directly compared metaphor and markedness explanations for spatial congruity effects, using musical pitch as a testbed. English speakers who talk about pitch in terms of spatial height were tested in speeded space-pitch compatibility tasks. To determine whether space-pitch congruency effects could be elicited by any marked spatial continuum, participants were asked to classify high- and low-frequency pitches as 'high' and 'low' or as 'front' and 'back' (both pairs of terms constitute cases of marked continuums). We found congruency effects in high/low conditions but not in front/back conditions, indicating that markedness is not sufficient to account for congruity effects (Experiment 1). A second experiment showed that congruency effects were specific to spatial words that cued a vertical schema (tall/short), and that congruity effects were not an artifact of polysemy (e.g., 'high' referring both to space and pitch). Together, these results suggest that congruency effects reveal metaphorical uses of spatial schemas, not markedness effects.