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Metaphor: Theoretical and Empirical Research
Psychological Bulletin (1978)
  • Andrew Ortony, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Ralph E. Reynolds, University of Northern Iowa
  • Judith A. Arter, Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, Portland, Oregon
Metaphor plays a major role in our understanding of language and of the world we use language to talk about. Consequently, theories of language comprehension and of language itself are incomplete if they do not handle the phenomenon of metaphor, and they are inadequate if they cannot. Traditional definitions and theories of metaphor are reviewed. It is suggested that they err in equating metaphors with comparisons rather than merely implicating comparisons. Empirical research is reviewed that reveals, for the most part, serious problems, particularly in the developmental research. These problems often relate to inadequate underlying theories about the nature of metaphor. Other difficulties include inadequate controls over preexisting knowledge and overly hasty conclusions that children cannot understand metaphors. Related research on the comprehension of proverbs and analogies is discussed. Some recommendations for future research are made. These depend on a redefinition of metaphor and on the employment of aa investigative approach that will permit adequate controls of preexisting knowledge, surface structure, and meaning. The approach recommended emphasizes and takes advantage of the contextdependent nature of metaphors. Finally, the role of comparisons is reexamined. It is of no avail to argue that metaphors are really implicit comparisons if, in so doing, one hopes to account for or explain their nonliteral nature. For even if metaphors can be transformed into comparisons, these comparisons are themselves nonliteral and consequently still need to be explained. 
  • metaphor,
  • review of theories & definitions & empirical research problems,
  • literature review
Publication Date
September, 1978
Citation Information
Andrew Ortony, Ralph E. Reynolds and Judith A. Arter. "Metaphor: Theoretical and Empirical Research" Psychological Bulletin Vol. 85 Iss. 5 (1978) p. 919 - 943
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