Embodied metaphor and abstract problem solving: Testing a metaphoric fit hypothesis in the health domain

Lucas A. Keefer, Mark J. Landau, Daniel Sullivan, Zachary K. Rothschild

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


How do people evaluate candidate solutions to abstract problems that are difficult to grasp? According to conceptual metaphor theory, people can conceptualize abstract ideas in terms of well-known bodily states, even if they are not currently experiencing those bodily states. Extending this perspective, we test a novel metaphoric fit hypothesis concerning the (mis)match between embodied-metaphoric framings of an abstract problem (in these studies, depression) and candidate solutions (depression treatments). In Studies 1 and 2, framing depression metaphorically as being physically down or darkened increased the perceived effectiveness of depression medications framed metaphorically as solving those bodily problems ("lifting" and "illuminating," respectively). Consistent with conceptual metaphor theory, this effect was mediated by subjective certainty about depression. Studies 3 and 4 manipulated problem and solution framings to test the interactive effects of metaphoric fit and misfit on solution evaluations. These findings reveal a new route by which embodied knowledge influences problem solving.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-20
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - Nov 2014


  • Conceptual metaphor
  • Depression
  • Embodied cognition
  • Health communication
  • Problem solving

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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