Mental Simulation in the Processing of Literal and Metaphorical Motion Language: an Eye Movement Study

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  • University of Barcelona


An eye-tracking while listening study based on the blank screen paradigm was conducted to investigate the processing of literal and metaphorical verbs of motion. The study was based on two assumptions from the literature: that language comprehension by default engages mental simulation, and that looking behavior (measured through patterns of eye-movements) can provide a window into ongoing cognitive processes. This study specifically compared the comprehension of sentences that depicted actual physical motion (the curtain is rising) and sentences that described changes in quantity or emotional states in terms of vertical motion (prices are rising). Results showed that eye-movements were selectively biased upward or downward in accordance with the direction implied by the verb, regardless of the context (literal or metaphorical) in which they appeared, and in the absence of any visual stimuli or explicit task. Thus, these findings suggest that literal and metaphorical language drive spontaneous, direction-specific mental simulations captured by eye-movements, and that at least in the case of verbs presented in the present progressive, which emphasizes the ongoing nature of actions, visual biases along the vertical axis may start during the verb itself.


Original languageEnglish
JournalMetaphor and Symbol
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 3 Jul 2020