Recent studies in cognitive linguistics have demonstrated that objects are conceptualised in terms of the actions they afford, i.e., in terms of their spatial-functional meaning. Since our interactions are constrained by the structure of our body, these studies view conceptualisation as essentially embodied. In this paper we argue that an object's abstract/figurative meaning is also embodied in that it is grounded in patterns of recurrent interactions with our environment, referred to as image schemas. On the basis of the spatial, relational structure of three such image schemas, two everyday products, a jug and an alarm clock, were systematically varied on form dimensions. Experiment 1 showed that participants with a background in design relate abstract characteristics to the form changes in the way predicted. To rule out the possibility that the relations uncovered are due to learned associations, a replication of the experiment was conducted with naïve participants (experiment 2), leading to highly similar results. In experiment 3, we tested the cross-cultural consistency of our findings by performing a second replication with Brazilian participants. The results of this experiment were only partly in line with our predictions, suggesting that cultural differences in interacting with the environment to some degree affect our understanding of the abstract meaning of objects. © 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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