Friday, September 12, 2014

Gardner: "Metaphors and Modalities" (1974)

This paper (by the later very famous developmental psychologist Howard Gardner) reports on an experiment in which college students and children of different ages were asked to apply adjectives like hot/cold to stimuli like uncommon stimuli like faces, color samples, or small objects. The young children were quite good at this, with some caveats.

The experiment is notable for employing materials that are not entirely obvious clichés, like the connection between big/small size and high/low tones.

In one task, for instance, the subjects to felt sandpaper of various degrees of coarseness, then deciding which of the two types of sandpaper was the more light, and which was the more dark. Other stimuli included as ping-pong ball vs. a jack (presumably meaning the edgy die used in playing the jacks), or the sound of a triangle vs. the sound of a recorder.

Table of materials used in the experiment; p. 86.

In general, Gardner found that even preschool children agreed more or less with the judgments college students made on these tasks. A notable exception was the application of color terms to new stimuli, something that seems to indicate a heavily conventional component in color metaphors, such as a blue tap for cold water (p. 88).

The smaller children also gave a number of bizarre, funny, and "incorrect" explanations for their choices. For instance,
The 7-year-old[s] equated "getting lots of presents on your birthday" with dark and "getting no presents" with light, because, as several subjects explained, "lots of presents are heavy to carry." Here the contrast to light/dark was apparently assimilated to light/heavy. (p. 88)
Also, the children equated
… a tactile-perceived Ping-Pong call with loud and a tactile-perceived jack with quiet; in this case, subjects reported that the Ping-Pong ball would make more noise if it fell, Here an action in which the elements might be involved overwhelmed the more conventional association of pointed compactness with noise and smooth emptiness with silence. (p. 88)
In both of these cases, the older children and the college students tended to arrive at the opposite conclusions.

The 11-year-olds in the study, by the way, also tended to answer that
[an] angry face is cold "because it makes you feel cold" (p. 88)
a finding that sits somewhat uneasily with Zoltán Kövecses' insistence on the universality of ANGER IS HEAT metaphors.

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