The understanding of visual metaphors by the congenitally blind

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Abstract

Results from a narrow set of empirical studies suggest that blind individuals' comprehension of metaphorical expressions does not differ from that of sighted participants. However, prominent accounts of metaphor comprehension yield different predictions about the blind's ability to comprehend visual metaphors. While conceptual metaphor theory leads to predicting that blind individuals should lag behind their sighted peers in making sense of this particular kind of utterances, from traditional accounts of analogical reasoning it follows that blind individuals' ability to comprehend the literal meaning of visual concepts might be sufficient to support their metaphorical application. In Experiment 1, 20 sighted and 20 congenitally blind participants were asked to select the most appropriate meaning for visual, grasping and filler metaphorical expressions. Results failed to reveal group differences for any type of metaphorical expressions. In order to implement a more stringent test of blind individuals' ability to understand visual metaphors, in Experiment 2 blind and sighted participants were presented with very novel figurative expressions, as indicated by low or no occurrence in the "Google" corpus. In line with the results of Experiment 1, blind participants' comprehension of visual metaphors was both high in absolute terms and comparable to that of sighted participants. We advance some speculations about the mechanisms by which blind individuals comprehend visual metaphors and we discuss the implications of these results for current theories of metaphor.

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Minervino, R. A., Martín, A., Micaela Tavernini, L., & Trench, M. (2018). The understanding of visual metaphors by the congenitally blind. Frontiers in Psychology, 9(JUL). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01242

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