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What can size tell us about abstract conceptual processing?

Research output: Contribution to Journal/MagazineJournal articlepeer-review

  • Bo Yao
  • Jack Taylor
  • Sara C. Sereno
Article number104369
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>31/12/2022
<mark>Journal</mark>Journal of Memory and Language
Number of pages13
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date8/09/22
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Embodied cognition theories propose that abstract concepts are grounded in a variety of exogenous and endogenous experiences which may be flexibly activated across contexts and tasks. In three experiments, we explored how semantic size (i.e., the magnitude, dimension or extent of an object or a concept) of abstract (vs concrete) concepts is mentally represented. We show that abstract size is metaphorically associated with the physical size of concrete objects (Experiment 1) and can produce a semantic-font size congruency effect comparable to that demonstrated in concrete words during online lexical processing (Experiment 2). Critically, this size congruency effect is large when a word is judged by its semantic size but significantly smaller when it is judged by its emotionality (Experiment 3), regardless of concreteness. Our results suggest that semantic size of abstract concepts can be grounded in visual size, which is activated adaptively under different task demands. The present findings advocate flexible embodiment of semantic representations, with an emphasis on the role of task effects on conceptual processing.