Exploring metaphor's epistemic function: Uncertainty moderates metaphor-consistent priming effects on social perceptions

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

24 Scopus citations


Consistent with conceptual metaphor theory's claim that metaphors operate at a conceptual, and not just linguistic, level, prior research shows that priming perceptions related to concrete concepts influences perceptions related to dissimilar, more abstract concepts in metaphor-consistent ways. However, the theory's claim that metaphors function to reduce uncertainty about abstract concepts has yet to be experimentally assessed. Two studies tested whether situational variation in uncertainty moderates metaphor-consistent priming effects. Study 1 focused on the metaphor life is a path and showed that priming path perceptions (vs. literal representations) increased perceived autobiographical continuity only if uncertainty about personal identity was salient. Study 2 focused on verticality metaphors and showed that vertical orientation primes influenced satisfaction with the decision to attend one's current university in both directions (up is good, bad is down) only if uncertainty about the value of the college experience was salient.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)657-660
Number of pages4
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 1 2011
Externally publishedYes



  • Attitudes
  • Autobiographical memory
  • Judgment
  • Life satisfaction
  • Social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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