Thursday, June 20, 2013

Meier, Robinson, and Clore: "Why Good Guys Wear White" (2004)

OK, now I'm officially confused.

In their 2007 study, Meier and Robinson found that affective cues prime spatial position, but not other way around:

TARGET (affect) →  SOURCE (position)

In this 2004 study — which contains the same references, the same statistical methods, the same ideas — Meier, Robinson, and Clore show that color primes affect, but not the other way around:

TARGET (affect)  ←  SOURCE (color)

In other words, they show two completely opposite things, and no one seems to have pointed this out.

Experimental Design

In the 2004 paper, the set-up is the following:

They show a number of words on a computer screen. Some are shown in a dark font, some in a bright; some words are positive, some negative. For instance, you could be shown the word candy in a dark gray font, or the word fickle in a bright gray font.

In the first batch of experiments, the subjects were told to determine the valence of the words as quickly as possible; this turns out to be easier when the color and the valence are congruent (e.g., the word sincere in a bright gray color).

In the second part, the subjects were told to determine the color of the font. This is easy, and word valence didn't make a difference.

Here's my own little mock-up of such a test material, so you can try it out yourself — say as quickly whether the following words are positive or negative:





If you're like the average person in this study, then you're about 2% or 3% slower at making the judgment about the last two items (although you might be much faster at recognizing positive words in general).

As the authors say, this effect can be compared to that of the Stroop experiment, although the conflict here is indirect — there is no literal contradiction between trust and "black" (p. 86).

Order and Association

The authors interpret the asymmetry between color and word valence in terms of "a race model in which physical cues … are available before stimulus valence is" (p. 85).

If this is true, then the order is: First, you notice the white letters; then, the whiteness primes your valence judgment; and then, you finish reading the word. This would then mean that the appreciation of the color and its associated valence is "obligatory," and that people can't ignore it while making semantic judgments (p. 86).

This, however, does not show that we think about the abstract concept in terms of the concrete: If anything, it shows the opposite.

It thus seems that cognitive metaphor theorists can choose between two empirical results when they dig through the psychological literature — one that supports that idea of understanding-in-terms-of, and another that supports a "deep" metaphorical comprehension process. This would be wonderful if it weren't for the fact that the two papers both forcefully argue against the point made in the other.

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