How to understand abstract concepts has always been a research focus in cognitive linguistics. The viewpoint, which is represented by conceptual metaphor theory and perceptual symbol theory, demonstrates that abstract concepts are acquired and grasped through the experience of perceptual movement of the body, and through the understanding and construction of metaphor. As a typical abstract concept, the acquisition of a moral concept's meaning is also based on relevant experience. We propose and test a general hypothesis, which we call the metaphorical retrieval hypothesis (MRH). According to this hypothesis, metaphor mapping is bidirectional, and feature integration and processing depth affect the retrieval of metaphor association. In Chinese, there are some psychological metaphors in moral concepts and container space, but there are no linguistic metaphors. Therefore, this metaphorical association is weak, which helps us to verify the metaphor retrieval hypothesis. To explore these questions, the metaphorical association between moral concepts and container space is investigated through three Experiments in this study.
All Experiments were performed using E-Prime 2.0. The Stroop paradigm was adopted in Experiment 1 to explore the metaphorical association between Chinese moral concepts and container space. Participants were asked to make moral judgments about words appearing inside and outside the circle. The purpose of Experiment 2a was to investigate the mapping from the target domain to the source domain at low or deep levels of perceptual processing. A priming paradigm was used in which participants were asked to judge the position of the letters in one block task and the category of the letters in another block task, respectively, when a letter was shown inside or outside the container, then the words appeared in the position of the letter and participants judged whether it was moral or immoral. Experiment 2b utilized the same paradigm as Experiment 2a, but the order of the letter judgment and the moral judgment was reversed in order to explore the mapping from the source domain to the target domain at low and deep levels of perceptual processing depth. Experiment 3a used the same paradigm as Experiment 1, during which participants were required to make moral judgments by pressing different buttons based on whether the Chinese words appeared inside or outside the circle. The aim of Experiment 3a was to explore the influence of the feature integrational degree on the orientation mapping from the target domain to the source domain. Similarly, to explore the influence of feature integrational degree on the orientation mapping from the source domain to the target domain, Experiment 3b adopted the same paradigm as Experiment 3a, but participants were asked to make container space judgments by pressing different buttons based on whether the Chinese words were moral or immoral.
Repeated ANOVA analysis was used to analyze the data in the Experiments. In Experiment 1, we collected the reaction time of lexical judgment of participants, and the results did not reveal a significant Stroop effect. In Experiment 2a, the reaction time of participants in the lexical judgment task was also recorded. The results showed that the effect of metaphorical consistency, which was incomplete, was only in the deeper perceptual processing depth. In Experiment 2b, the reaction time of participants in the letter judgment task was analyzed. Consistent with Experiment 2a, an incomplete metaphorical consistency effect was found only in the deeper perceptual processing depth. In Experiment 3a, the reaction time of participants in the lexical judgment task was collected, and a complete and strong metaphorical consistency effect was proved. Finally, in Experiment 3b, the reaction time of participants in the container space judgment task was recorded, and the results also suggested a complete and strong metaphorical consistency effect.
In summary, the following conclusions were drawn from the three Experiments. First, there was a psychological metaphor between moral concepts and container space, which was represented as moral internally and immoral externally, respectively. The mapping between container space and moral concepts was bidirectional. Second, the metaphorical association and bidirectional mapping between container space and moral concepts were affected by the depth of perceptual processing and the degree of feature integration. Finally, this study also provided evidence to support the Metaphorical Retrieval Hypothesis.