ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2015, Vol. 47 ›› Issue (7): 939-949.

### Multiple Metaphorical Representations of Power: Evidence from Size and Color

YANG Huilan; HE Xiayou; ZHAO Xueru; ZHANG Wei

1. (Center for Studies of Psychological Application, South China Normal University, Guangzhou 510631, China)
• Received:2015-03-04 Published:2015-07-25 Online:2015-07-25
• Contact: HE Xiayou, E-mail: xianyouhe@163.com

Abstract:

How human beings represent abstractions is an important issue in cognitive psychology. The embodied cognition model proposes that cognition is based on body; individuals’ abstract concepts can be associated with sensorimotor processes. Two origins for embodied cognition theory have been posited: Perceptual Symbol Theory (PPS) and Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT). Perceptual Symbol Systems assumes that sensory-motor experiences are involved in the process of mental representation of concepts. Conceptual Metaphor Theory describes embodied effects wherein sensation influences conceptual processing. In this framework, the essence of metaphor is that people use familiar and specific experiences to construct new abstract concepts, and our research is based on this theory. Many previous studies found that the abstract concept of “power” is embodied within space, weight or size, but few studies have examined multiple metaphors of power. The present study is comprised of four experiments with undergraduates to test whether the mental representation of power is associated with size and color. Experiment 1a used the Stroop task and Experiment 1b used the Implicit Association Test (IAT) paradigm to explore whether power is mentally represented by size in Chinese culture. Different font sizes (large/small) were employed in experiment 1a to present a power-related word (powerful/powerless), and participants were asked to decide whether the stimulus was powerful or powerless. By assessing automatic associations of power with big or small squares, we designed an IAT paradigm in Experiment 1b to explore the implicit effect of the “power-size” bias. Experiment 2a used the Stroop Task and Experiment 2b used the Implicit Association Test (IAT) paradigm to explore whether power is mentally represented with color in Chinese culture. Experiment 2a used different colors (gold/grey) to present the power-related word (powerful/powerless) and participants were asked to decide whether the stimulus was powerful or powerless, whereas in Experiment 2b the IAT paradigm was used to test the implicit effect of “power-color” bias by assessing automatic associations of power with gold or grey squares. Mixed-factorial ANOVAs were used to analyze the data. The results of Experiment 1a showed a significant Stroop effect. When powerful words were presented in large font and powerless words presented in small font, reaction time was significantly reduced. Experiment 1b indicated that the mean reaction time was significantly shorter in the compatible test than in the incompatible test, with participants tending to associate powerful words with the large square and powerless words with the small square. Experiment 2a also showed a significant Stroop effect. When powerful words were presented in gold and powerless words presented in grey color, reaction time was significantly reduced. In Experiment 2b, the results indicated that the mean reaction time was significantly shorter in the compatible test than in the incompatible test, in which participants tended to associate powerful words with the gold square and powerless words with the grey square. In sum, the results suggest that the mental representation of power is associated with size and color cues in Chinese culture. Chinese participants tend to associate powerful words with the large font and gold color, and associate powerless words with the small font and grey color. Objective differences, language, and culture create ecology in which power and size or color is correlated. Based on this, we argue that Chinese developed a strong mental association between size and color cues with power.