Conceptual metaphors, processing fluency, and aesthetic preference

Lynn Zhang, Mohammad Atari, Norbert Schwarz*, Eryn J. Newman, Reza Afhami

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    9 Citations (Scopus)


    In everyday language, abstract concepts are described in terms of concrete physical experiences (e.g., good things are “up”; the past is “behind” us). Stimuli congruent with such conceptual metaphors are processed faster than stimuli that are not. Since ease of processing enhances aesthetic pleasure, stimuli should be perceived as more pleasing when their presentation matches (rather than mismatches) the metaphorical mapping. In six experiments, speakers of English (Experiment 1-3a) and Farsi (Experiment 3b and 4) viewed valence- and time-related photos in arrangements congruent and incongruent with their metaphorical mapping. Consistent with the valence-verticality metaphor in both languages, English and Farsi speakers preferred visual arrangements that placed the happy photo above the sad photo. In contrast, participants' preferences for time-related photos were moderated by the direction of writing. English speakers, who write from left to right, preferred arrangements that placed past-themed photos to the left of modern-themed photos; this was not observed for Farsi speakers, who write from right to left as well as left to right. In sum, identical stimuli enjoy an aesthetic advantage when their spatial arrangement matches the spatial ordering implied by applicable conceptual metaphors.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number104247
    JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022

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