ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2014, Vol. 46 ›› Issue (9): 1331-1346.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2014.01331

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The Black and White Metaphor Representation of Moral Concepts and Its Influence on Moral Cognition

YIN Rong1,2; YE Haosheng1   

  1. (1 The Center for Mind and Brain, Guangzhou University, Guangzhou 510006, China) (2 School of Teacher education, Weifang University, Weifang 261061, China)
  • Received:2013-09-27 Published:2014-09-25 Online:2014-09-25
  • Contact: YE Haosheng, E-mail:


White is often associated with goodness, whereas black is often associated with evil. The association of color with moral concept is ubiquitous in popular culture. And such connections are very common in every language. According to Concept Metaphor Theory, metaphor is not only just the language we use to communicate: it reflects a cognitive character that sensorimotor experiences and concrete concepts serve as the foundation for the development of more abstract concepts. The studies investigate the color metaphor representation of moral concepts and its influence on moral cognition. All studies carried out in E-prime. In study 1a, a moral or immoral Chinese word was presented on the middle of a computer screen. A black Greek word and a white Greek word were presented on the screen. Participants were instructed to guess which Greek word was the corresponding translation of the Chinese word. Study 1b was a category-judging task. Participants were instructed to categorize black words and white words according to whether they were moral or immoral in meaning as quickly and accurately as possible. In study 2 participants were asked to rate 8 moral dilemma events and 8 immoral events on the dimension of morality on a 10-point scale, from 1 (very moral) to 10 (very immoral). All events were presented on white or black background. In study 3, participants carried out the experiment in a bright or a dark room. After finishing a unrelated task, each participant was told that he (or her) would share 15yuan with another copartner. They were instructed to calculate the amount of money they could receive and evaluate the possibility of being treated unfairly by the copartner from 1 (not) to 7 (very). The results of study1a showed that participants translated the moral words above guessing average by white Greek words, and immoral words were translated above guessing average by black Greek words. Study 1b showed that response times were shorter when moral words appeared in white, and when immoral words appeared in black. Study 2 showed that participants in the black background group judged these moral dilemma events to be more morally wrong compared to participants in the white background group. Study3 showed that participants in the dark condition evaluate the possibility of being treated unfairly to be more likely than participants in the bright condition. All together, the results suggest that there is psychological reality of “Moral is white, immoral black”. Such a color representation of moral concepts exists at the cognitive level. Processing moral concepts and moral information can be influenced by perceiving the blackness or whiteness subtly. Moral cognition can also be interfered by the perception of brightness.

Key words: conceptual metaphor, metaphor representation, moral cognition, white, black