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Metaphor comprehension as problem solving: an online study

of the reading process - 1

Style, Fall, 2002 by Chanita Goodblatt, Joseph Glicksohn

1. Interaction Theory and Problem Solving

A special issue on "Cognitive Approaches to Metaphor" very fittingly calls forth a collaboration between a
literary critic and a cognitive psychologist. Taking advantage of the unique skills afforded by each discipline, we
have attempted to forge an interdisciplinary approach to metaphor that--for the literary critic-- concretizes the
hypothesized cognitive processes involved in reading the poetic text (e.g., image generation, filling in of "gaps,"
drawing of analogies), while--for the cognitive psychologist--provides the commentary which bears on the wider
cultural and literary contexts of this text.

Our particular convergence of literary criticism with cognitive psychology is to be found in the Interaction theory
of metaphor. While this theory of metaphor is not a dominant one within which empirical research is currently
being conducted, (2) it has the potential, as the literary critic Ina Biermann has stated, for providing "a sound
basis for the empirical study of metaphor in literature and specifically in poetic texts" (63). What is more,
Interaction theory--by drawing "attention to the creative, 'online' strategic aspects of metaphor" (Gineste,
Indurkhya and Scart 120)--is particularly suited to analyzing complex metaphors, to be appreciated in full when
a poetic text is unraveled into its constituent parts and their interaction made explicit by the reader (as in the
present study).

In a previous essay, we have detailed the relationship between Interaction theory and Gestalt psychology,
demonstrating that the very qualities of a metaphor which are stressed by Interaction theorists enable the
study of metaphor to fall within the scope of a Gestalt-oriented cognitive psychology. (3) These major qualities

(1) A metaphor is an emergent whole, created by an interaction between its primary and secondary subjects;

(2) A single metaphor should be understood within a larger context (such as provided, typically, by the literary

(3) Comprehending a metaphor is akin to problem solving, and in its most creative form ("productive thinking";
Wertheimer) involves an act of perceptual and semantic restructuring.

The first two qualities make explicit the identification of a metaphor with a gestalt as a "shape or form": it is an
emergent whole, which is fully comprehended once the interaction between its primary and secondary subjects
is fully analyzed; such an analysis must be conducted at a higher level than that of a comparison of features
(Tversky) and therefore requires a full textual-interaction analysis. In summary, these two qualities foreground
the Gestalt emphasis on the significance of context in determining form and were the focus for our previous

The present essay focuses on the third quality, which readily lends itself to an empirical investigation. Such an
investigation is important for a number of reasons. One is theoretical, derived within Gestalt psychology itself. A
second is metatheoretical, creating a bridge between two different paradigms of cognition and among different
areas of research. A third is pragmatic: to quote the Gestalt psychologist Kurt Lewin, "there is nothing so
practical as a good theory" (169). We address each of these considerations in turn.

First, in stressing problem solving we are placing textual analysis and metaphor comprehension within a Gestalt
tradition of questioning "what happens if one really thinks, and thinks productively, and what may be the
decisive features and the steps?" (Wertheimer 2). Our Gestalt-Interactionist approach views the reader as being
faced with a problem-situation presented by the metaphor and by the text. We postulate that the reader will be
going through a process of textual interpretation (i.e., the revision of suppositions and the filling in of semantic
gaps, as discussed by Perry and Steinberg) while reading. The objective of the present study is thus to provide
empirical support for viewing metaphor comprehension in terms of the cognitive process of problem solving, as
students of literature begin to unravel a whole poetic text. This is a welcome addition to a more text-based,
Gestalt-Interactionist analysis, conducted previously.

Secondly, problem solving has been addressed by two different paradigms of cognition: that of Gestalt
psychology (Wertheimer), and that of information processing (Simon). One methodology common to both
entails having the subject "think aloud" while attempting to solve the problem, and this can serve as a bridge
between the two paradigms. At present, thinking aloud has become a standard methodology in the general area
of problem solving (Ericsson and Simon), as well as in reading and text comprehension (Pressley and
Afflerbach). What is more, various literary critics involved in reader-response research have adopted Simon's
strategy of collecting and analyzing these verbal protocols, to provide online data about the reading process
(e.g., Andringa). Finally, both Monica Gregory and Gerard Steen have recently utilized this strategy for studying
metaphor comprehension. Thus by conducting an online study of the reading process we can lend empirical
support to our theory, while at the same time creating a bridge b etween the different orientations and research
areas wherein such a methodology is well accepted:

Thirdly, and pragmatically, viewing metaphor comprehension as problem solving assists us in bridging the gap
between our two disciplines. Literary critics have tended to analyze poetic texts and poetic metaphor (metaphor
within a poetic text), without considering the findings generated by cognitive psychologists, to focus rather on
linguistic, semantic and logical analyses (Fishelov; Hausman). Cognitive psychologists, on the other hand, have
tended to analyze single, mundane metaphors not appearing in a poetic text, emphasizing linguistic and
conceptual factors involved in metaphor comprehension (Gibbs; Glucksberg and Keysar). In short, one can say
that literary critics have not looked at real readers of metaphor, while psychologists have not looked at
metaphor within real--that is to say, whole--texts. By using both real readers and literary texts, we are able to
forge a constructive dialogue between disciplines, as we analyze the texts (verbal protocols) generated by our
readers in their striving to solve t he problems raised by the text presented to them.

2. Test Case: William Carlos Williams's "Arrival"

In our online study of poetic metaphor, the readers were given the poem "Arrival" (see p.437) by the American
poet William Carlos Williams (1883-1963). This poem does not simply comprise a suitable text for an empirical
investigation ("everyday" language, brief text, distinct syntactical units), but also brings to the fore central
literary, cultural, and psychological concerns. Published in Williams's volume Sour Grapes in 1921, "Arrival"
appears against a cultural background emphasizing the central role of imagery in philosophy, psychology, and
literature. What is more, this poem addresses issues of perception which are central to his poetic corpus at
large (Lakoff and Turner; Gee; Trouard). "Arrival" is thus an apt expression of Williams's own statement that
there "are no ideas but in things" (Autobiography 390); indeed this process of thinking with things, rather than
of them to illustrate thought [... enters] 'Arrival', with its casual and surprising descent into a 'tawdry' winter of
experience" (Whitake r 56).

Williams's statement gives focus to the oft-quoted Imagist statement, penned by his friend and fellow poet Ezra
Pound, that "an Image is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time"
(130). The image to which both Williams and Pound refer readily lends itself to empirical inquiry. During the
first decade of the twentieth century, experimental psychologists provided evidence that put to question the
philosophical premise that all mental life could be concretized into either percepts or images. The psychologists
demonstrated that some thoughts involved images, while others could be characterized as being "imageless."
The resulting "imageless thought" debate in psychology placed imagery as a focus of interest for psychological
investigation. (4)

How, we might ask, is this linked to Williams and Pound as Imagist poets? It should be recalled that Continental
philosophy and psychology were not necessarily separate disciplines at this time, as "experimental psychology
remained asubfield of philosophy in the German-speaking universities until 1941" (Ash 144). Imagery was also
a topic of concern for philosophy; thus, philosophers of note such as Henri Bergson began to discuss this and
other forms of mental life (Richardson 139; Russell 795). What is more, one can trace a direct Bergsonian
influence on Thomas E. Hulme--the man who helped forge the Imagist poetics and inspired the Imagist poets
(Jones)--as well as a direct (but less widely noted) influence of German philosophers and psychologists. (5)
These converging lines of thought thereby ultimately make Imagism part and parcel of this wider Zeitgeist
spanning all three areas.

Turning from this consideration of the general to the particular, how does Williams's poem "Arrival" realize the
declared poetic manifesto of Imagism? To best answer this question one should consider the two metaphors of
this poem, marked in bold (see p. 437), within the context of W. K. Wimsatt's discussion of "romantic nature
imagery." For this poetic tradition is specifically the target of Hulme's statement that "the concepts that are
right and proper in their own sphere are spread over, and so mess up, falsify and blur the clear outlines of
human experience" (118); in Wimsatt's words, "the metaphor [in Coleridge's poem] in fact is scarcely noticed
by the main statement of the poem. Both tenor [primary subject] and vehicle [secondary subject], furthermore,
are wrought in a parallel process out of the same material" (224).

By way of contrast, Williams's reconstruction in "Arrival" of Coleridge's interrelationship of the human and the
natural worlds (i.e., the semantic fields of "human" and "nature," as discussed in the previous empirical studies)
distinctly marks out the boundaries between them. Karsten Harries's comment on another poem from the same
volume registers this difference when she writes that "the image [of the flower] is so strong that the vehicle
[secondary subject] seems to emancipate itself from the tenor [primary subject]. Is it ever clear what is vehicle
and what is tenor?" (77). Williams's focus in "Arrival" through the "erotics of the male gaze" (Dolin 50) on the
image of the "tawdry veined body" underlines a strongly perceptual aspect to the metaphor. In agreement
therefore with Harries, we would like to hypothesize that the reader is faced with a problem of deciding what is
the specific referent for this phrase (woman, tree, both?). In addition, we presume that it is the vivid imagery
of both tree trunk and woman's body evoked by the text as a whole (in which the poetic metaphor is
embedded) that enables a bi-directional reading of the metaphor (the primary subject of the metaphoric phrase
being either the body of a woman or the trunk of a tree).

Furthermore, it is because both primary and secondary subjects are highly imageable that this text is
particularly suited to a Gestalt-Interactionist approach (Glicksohn 232). It is our hypothesis that metaphor

comprehension incorporates acts of problem solving: what is the referent now, or has the referent changed?
Problem solving in turn entails an act of "perceptual restructuring," referring to a reorganization of the
perceptual field to enable the solution of a problem (Wertheimer). In addition, by drawing an analogy with
perceptual restructuring, one can look for instances of what we term "semantic restructuring," whereby there is
a reorganization of the semantic fields (following Kittay) to achieve a further solution to the problem. It is the
Imagist "process of thinking with things, rather than of them" which makes it possible for us to refer to both a
perceptual and a semantic restructuring on the part of the reader. In sections 3 and 4 we will describe this
study, present some major results, and draw some conclusions.

3. Description of Methodology


Twenty-three undergraduate students of literature studying with the first author, taken from various classes but
not those specifically concerned with metaphor, participated in this study. All were experimentally naive and
were unfamiliar with the technique of thinking aloud. They were paid for their participation.

It is important to note here two primary reasons for relying on students of literature in this study. First,
researchers conducting empirical studies of reader response have turned to students of literature in order to
obtain data on the reading process and literary understanding (e.g., Andringa, Steen). Secondly, cognitive
psychologists addressing problem solving among experts (e.g., chess players, scientists) have turned to select
populations from whom informative protocols can be obtained (Pressley and Afflerbach).

Computerized Presentation of the Text

All sections of the text (see below) were prepared as visual stimuli (PICT files) using Canvas software, and were
presented on a color monitor. The experiment was controlled by SuperLab, run on an Apple Macintosh LCIII.
The text appeared on the screen until the verbal report had been completed at that level (self-paced).


The participants were asked to read the poetic text presented on a computer screen and provide an online
verbal report of their process of comprehension. Specifically, they were asked to provide a continuous update of
their current understanding of the text as it unfolded on the screen. The text was unfolded over a series of five
trials, such that at each trial more and more text appeared on the screen (see p. 437). At certain points in the

text, the reader encountered a targeted metaphor appearing in boldface print. During each such trial, the
reader was required to focus on the task of metaphor comprehension.

Ratings of the metaphor, (see scales below), were also made online on each of these specific trials, after the
metaphor had been discussed. The readers could advance to the next phase of the experiment (more text) by
pressing the space key, only when the tasks of the previous trial (verbal report and metaphor ratings) had been
completed. The session was taped, and the verbal reports were transcribed for content analysis. A research
assistant ran the experiment and transcribed the protocols.

Instructions and Rating Scales

Following the suggestion recently made by Pressley and Afflerbach (121), we detail in this section the
instructions given to our readers. It was stressed to the participants that they should try to provide as detailed
a protocol as possible of their reading process. These were the instructions appearing over the first three

In this study, you will be presented with a poetic text printed on a computer screen. As this text unfolds on the
screen, you will be asked to provide a continuing verbal report of your process of comprehension. This verbal
report will be taped, so you do not have to write it down. We want you to think aloud as you read the text. By
this we mean that we are interested in hearing what you understand by the text in front of you, just as if you
were alone in the room, reading the poem to yourself, and trying to make some sense out, of it.

The poetic text will be presented in a series of segments, so that during your reading process more and more
text will appear on the screen. Previous segments will appear in italics (like this). Please remember that we
want you to continue thinking aloud as more and more segments of the text appear before you.

At certain points in the text, you will find a metaphor appearing in bold print. Please focus particularly on the
process of comprehending this metaphor. As each metaphor appears, you will be given 3 questions that can
serve as guidelines for you.

In addition to the taped verbal reports, you will be asked to rate each marked metaphor, on various scales that
will appear on the screen. These rating scales will be presented, one at a time, and we ask you to type in your
ratings on the screen. Following are definitions of the 4 rating scales. Please read them very carefully.

Scale: Similarity of primary and secondary subjects in each metaphor:

To understand the terms "primary" and "secondary" subjects, look at the following metaphor: "My love is a
rose." Here "love" [the person loved] is the primary subject, while "rose" is the secondary subject. Please rate
the similarity between the primary and the secondary subjects of the marked metaphor on a 7-point scale. This
scale moves between the term "very dissimilar" [1] and the term "very similar" [7].

Very Dissimilar 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Very Similar

Practice using this scale for the metaphor "My love is a rose" by typing in your rating now.

Scale: Ease of Comprehension.

Please rate how easy or difficult you find it to comprehend the metaphor, on a 7-point scale. This scale moves
between the term "very difficult" [1] and the term "very easy" [7].

Very Difficult 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Very Easy

Practice using this scale for the metaphor "My love is a rose" by typing in your rating now.

Scale: Concrete--Abstract.

Please rate the degree of concreteness or abstractness of the metaphor on a 7-point scale. The term "concrete"
refers to objects, while the term "abstract" refers to concepts that cannot be experienced by the senses. This
scale moves between the term "concrete" [1] and the term "abstract" [7].

Concrete 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Abstract

Practice using this scale for the metaphor "My love is a rose" by typing in your rating now."

Scale: Number of Alternative Interpretations.

Please rate the number of alternative interpretations you can suggest for the metaphor, from your reading of it
within its context. This scale moves between the term "few" [1] and the term "many" [7].

Few 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Many

Practice using this scale for the metaphor "My love is a rose" by typing in your rating now.

On encountering the targeted metaphors, the reader was prompted by three questions appearing on the screen
beneath the text, to discuss the process of metaphor comprehension. Specifically, the reader was asked to
indicate in the verbal protocol:

(1) How the reader identified the marked phrase as being a metaphor;

(2) To indicate what information in the text is of use in comprehending each metaphor;

(3) Whether the meaning of the metaphor changed as more text appeared.

On completing the verbal report concerning comprehension of the target metaphors, the reader was presented
with the four rating scales, appearing on separate, consecutive screens, one at a time. Order of presentation of
these scales was balanced (as far as this was possible).

Scales similar to these have been previously employed in the rating of metaphoric sentences by ourselves and
by others (Katz, Paivio, Marschark, and Clark). While the data gathered on these are of interest in themselves,
this strategy of having the readers rate the texts also served as a validation check, given our previous data
gathered using a comparable population of readers and the same texts, but in questionnaire format.

Content Analysis

Both authors served as independent raters for content analysis. We looked at the strategies adopted by the
readers in their reading. These were our operational definitions:

(1) Is there evidence for an act of problem solving on the part of the reader? That is, are problems raised and
are solutions suggested? Further, does this act of problem solving involve perceptual or semantic restructuring?

(2) Does the reader turn to an analysis of semantic fields in the reading? That is, is there explicit mention of
semantic fields (e.g., "nature")? Further, are these semantic fields simply identified, or actually used in
semantic restructuring?

4. Results and Discussion

Verbal Protocols

The length of the experimental session (determined primarily by the length of the verbal protocol) ranged
between 11 and 47 minutes (med = 16 min). Data from two readers were lost due to noncompliance with the

instructions, and thus the content analysis is based on an n of 21. A total of eight participants (38%) were
considered by both judges to be "good" readers; they provided protocols that both contained a sizable amount
of content and exhibited at least one of the two strategies discussed above. A total of nine participants (43%)
were considered by both judges to have provided inadequate readings. Inter-rater agreement was thus 81%,
which would be considered to be adequate (Green). We disagreed with respect to four participants. On
attempting to resolve this discrepancy, we found that for all four of these there was an element of problem
solving picked up by one judge, and not by the other. In our subsequent content analyses, we decided to
discard these readers and to focus only on the clear-cut distincti on between "good" and "inadequate" readings.

We first looked at the length of the experimental session as a function of type of reader ("good" or inadequate).
A simple t-test comparing the two groups revealed, as would be expected, that the eight better readers
provided slightly longer protocols (M = 21.59 minutes, SD = 12.98) than did the nine others (M = 19.70, SD =
8.32), but not significantly so (t < 1). (6)

Rating Scales

We computed mean values across the two metaphors per reader, for each scale. In such a manner, we obtained
a representative, individual value for each scale, matching somewhat the global ratings obtained across
metaphors from the previous empirical studies. We subsequently compared the data of those eight readers
considered to have been "good" to those of the nine readers whose readings were considered to have been
inadequate. There was only one notable difference: for the "good" readers, the metaphors in the text were
rated as being much easier to comprehend (M = 4.75, SD = 0.76) than they were for those providing
inadequate readings (M = 3.67, SD = 1.06; t = 2.40, df = 15, p < .05). Apart from this, all seventeen readers
agreed that the metaphors were slightly abstract (M = 4.65), that their subjects were neither similar nor
dissimilar (M = 3.91), and that there were few alternative interpretations (M = 3.35).

Analysis of Verbal Protocols

Our analysis of the verbal protocols will necessarily be presented in two stages. Our goal in this section is to
exemplify the type of protocols obtained, by quoting extensively from two different readers. In the following
section (quoting extensively from another three readers), we will present a general scheme within which one
can trace the process of metaphor comprehension in the protocols.

We will therefore now look at selected sections of two verbal protocols, focusing on the metaphoric phrases
"dropping its silk and linen leaves" and "tawdry veined body." We consider the first protocol to be a good

... the fact that her dress is described as silk and linen leaves that drop about her ankles

... It could be, maybe she's mother nature? She's a woman, nature is a woman, and she is adorned in silk and
linen leaves. Beauty of nature. The fact that the leaves drop about her ankles could be, yes it changes the, the
metaphor because it directly connects nature and autumn to a woman, to this woman, and he's obviously in a
very intimate situation. ... Tawdry and veined could be like a tree ... with its branches and roots but in a
more ... more pretty view of the tree but ... not the beautiful green, but, but the more eh, the violent aspect of,
of the branches and, and roots that aren't necessarily beautiful.... Well I used the, the fact that they're
mentioning leaves ... to, to eh, to connect it to a tree and autumn ... and the body ... the body is the woman
whether she be a real woman or mother nature ... or nature as a woman ... Ehm ... Well when you say emerges
it could mean that in autumn the leaves fall off the tree and they eh ... show the bare tree with its branches so
the emerge does sort of help me understand the metaphor in the way that I understand it because ... it brings
us back to autumn and leaves falling and so ... it, it's as if the dress fall off, of nature and unveils ... the
nature's naked body.

In this reading, one can see an active process of problem solving (e.g., in the question "maybe she's mother
nature?"). This reader's strategy for solving the problem posed by the first metaphor ("silk and linen leaves") is
to go through a process of reasoning, by building a (faulty) syllogism: she [the character wearing "her dress"]
is a woman (A is B); nature is a woman ["mother nature"; mythological and/or romantic image; C is B);
therefore nature wears a dress (A is C). In this manner, the reader generates the similarity between dress and
autumn leaves. In the reader's words is a definition of problem solving as entailing both perceptual and
semantic restructuring: "it changes the metaphor because it directly connects nature and autumn to a woman."

In response to the second metaphor ("tawdry veined body"), the reader's use of romantic nature imagery is
shattered with the sustained concentration on the image of the "veined tree." This conforms to the declared
poetics of the Imagist poem, in which the visual aspects of the image contrast with the romantic, blurred
metaphor, in this instance serving to ironically redefine the conventional motif of "mother nature." Furthermore,
this reader entertains a bi-directional reading of the poetic text, as the semantic field of "nature" (in the guise
of the autumn tree) becomes fused with that of "human" (the woman).

The second protocol provides the opportunity both to present a descriptive discussion and then to move beyond
it to a prescriptive one, defining what for us comprises an inadequate reading:

... eh ... leaves cannot be silk and linen ... therefore it's metaphor, but they're beautiful so the poet compares
them to silk and linen. They're beautiful to the touch, to feel them just like silk and linen.... [tawdry veined
body] this is, ah, sure it's a metaphor, yeah because autumn doesn't have a body, it's not a human being, aha,
so this is the explanation.

A salient characteristic of this protocol is its brevity. While the previous reader built a (faulty) syllogism in order
to draw an inference about the meaning of the first metaphor, this reader's strategy for solving the problem is
to use semantic anomaly to identify the phrase as metaphor ("leaves cannot be silk and linen"). For this second
reader, the metaphor is thus comprehended solely on the basis of an existing similarity (quality of touch); this
is in line with Comparison theory. Regarding the second metaphor, its identification is again on the basis of
recognizing a semantic anomaly ("autumn doesn't have a body"), with the reader not even providing any
explanation of an existing similarity.

On a more prescriptive note, what distinguishes this reading from the previous, "good" reading? In answer, we
see that the first reader draws an inference and generates the similarity between the dress and the leaves (in
line with our own Gestalt-Interactionist approach). By way of contrast, the second reader focuses on a semantic
anomaly and preexisting similarity (in line with Comparison theory). We can thus say that for the first reader, in
attempting to solve problems raised by the text, metaphor comprehension involves what the psychologist
Jerome Bruner has described as "going beyond the information given." The second reader, however, is not
challenged by the text, because local comparisons are drawn on to resolve anomalies; in other words, there is
neither perceptual nor semantic restructuring based on an appreciation of the whole text.

Tracing the Process of Metaphor Comprehension

We will now trace out the process of metaphor comprehension, represented both in diagrammatic form and in a
table. Figure 1 (p. 439) presents a flowchart of the process of metaphor comprehension, specific to the poem
"Arrival." This flowchart was devised on the basis of a number of sources: our own independent readings of the
text; responses to the text gathered in questionnaire format from the two earlier empirical studies; and the
verbal protocols of the eight "good" readers. Table 1 provides verbatim examples of critical points in the
individual verbal protocols of three of these "good" readers, together with their mean rating of the number of
alternative interpretations. These protocols can be compared with the idealized reading process concretized in
the flowchart, much as one can compare verbal protocols of problem solving to computer algorithms (Simon).

Our goal in such a comparison is to discuss in what way these readers both approach and deviate from the ideal
reading presented in Figure 1.

William Carlos Williams. "Arrival" (Collected Poems 164-65) *

And yet one arrives somehow, [1]

finds himself loosening the hooks of
her dress
in a strange bedroom -- [2]
feels the autumn
dropping its silk and linen leaves
about her ankles. [3]
The tawdry veined body emerges [4]
twisted upon itself
like a winter wind ...! [5]

* The numbers in brackets indicate the amount of text presented

(cumulatively) over the 5 trials

In the flowchart, the continuum of reading the text is represented on the left by a series of five boxes
connected by arrows, while the process of metaphor comprehension is represented by the group of connected
boxes on the right. We will focus here on the two instances of problem solving. The organization of the table
matches this focus.

The first act of problem solving is evoked by an implicit question: what are "silk and linen leaves" (designated
in the flowchart as Problem 1)? An analysis in terms of the two semantic fields of "nature" and "human"
provides for alternative readings, depending on which of these is viewed as the primary and which as the
secondary subject of the metaphor. In other words, either the dress is perceived as (falling) autumn leaves, or
the autumn leaves are perceived as a (dropping) dress (see Fig. 1). Turning to Table 1, we can see that all
three readers approach this ideal reading; for Readers 1 and 2 "nature" and "human" alternate in the role of
primary and secondary subjects, while Reader 3 adopts only one of these alternative readings. In these
readings, there is an act of comparison (Chiappe and Kennedy) that emphasizes common qualities (touch,
color) or the drawing of an analogy (Gentner et al.) that in the present case resonates with a more extended
concept of "mother nature."

The second act of problem solving is divided (by Williams's use of enjambment) into two stages, which are
evoked by two implicit questions: what is a "veined body"? (designated in the flowchart as Problem 2a); and
what is "twisted upon itself'? (designated in the flowchart as Problem 2b). (7) Based on prior images, the
reading of the second metaphor would result either in the image of a veined body of a woman or in a veined
trunk of a tree. On proceeding to the final syntactical unit, the image of a "veined" woman's body would be
subsequently transformed into an image of an old woman while the image of a "veined" tree trunk would be
subsequently transformed into an image of an old tree.

Turning to Table 1, we can see that all three readers approach this ideal reading. For Reader 1, the resolution of
this problem is to transform the image of the woman from one who is young and beautiful to one who is old.
Reader 2 directly notes having a problem with the phrase "veined body." Therefore, this reader is explicitly
going through a process of problem solving, which is subsequently resolved by thinking of a thin person. Reader
3 also grapples with the text, commenting both on the body of a tree and on the woman's age, without
apparently being able to resolve the problem.

We further note that Readers 1 and 2, who indicate a large number of alternative interpretations on that rating
scale, also go beyond uni-directional analogy in their reading. For these readers, an initial image of a young and
beautiful woman is transformed into a less attractive person, and at the same time the image of an autumn
tree is transformed into an old and twisted tree trunk. In entertaining both of these readings, and in alternating
between them, the reader can subsequently generate similarity (Indurkhya) between the image of the old
woman (the semantic field of "human") and that of the old tree (the semantic field of "nature"), thereby going
beyond uni-directional analogy (Black).

5. Conclusion

As a concluding statement, it is worth recalling that twenty-five years ago the psychologist Richard Billow could
begin his review on metaphor by writing that "at first thought, metaphor appears to be a topic for literary
rather than psychological concern" (81). The present study has taken up this challenge. We have shown how
real readers have dealt with a real text in real time. We have also implemented a methodological strategy that
juxtaposes an analysis of individual protocols with a depiction of the reading process by means of a flowchart.
Finally, we have been careful to align a particular instance of poetics to a cognitive Framework. In reply to
Billow, we have therefore shunned an "either-or" solution to the study of metaphor, proposing instead an
interaction between the two disciplines of literature and cognitive psychology that will hopefully provide further
opportunities for productive research.


Table 1

Individual verbal protocols

Reader 1

Problem 1:

the undressing of the woman is

"dropping its silk

as a tree looses its leaves in

and linen leaves"

autumn... the leaves of the


trees are rustic and brown,

like the colors of autumn
are falling to the ground


an analogy being drawn

between the tree losing
its leaves and the woman
being undressed

Problem 2a:

well this changes my whole

"tawdry veined body"

perception ... I actually though

of actually thought of this


woman as initially young and

beautiful and slender, wearing
a silk dress ... I can deduce
that this woman is also an
old woman with veined, with
a tawdry and veined old body


we have now the trunk and the

body of the tree being
explained in terms of

old age very veined

Problem 2b:

the tawdry veined body emerges

"twisted upon itself

twisted upon itself, so it's

like a winter wind"

obviously an old person ...

the nature is being brough up


again or a second time as

the winter wind twists and
blows against itself

No. of alternative



Reader 2

Problem 1:

you've got the dress,

"dropping its silk

falling off like the

and linen leaves"

leaves from tree



autumn dropping dropping leaves

... like silk and linen
dropping around the ankles

Problem 2a:

I don't think you talk about

"tawdry veined body"

a veined body ... The veined

body ... I've got a problem


with that one ... veined

body could be compared
to the leaves


Problem 2b:

It's obviously a thin person

"twisted upon itself

emerging from the body and the

like a winter wind"

bones sticking out like the leaves

in the tree ... you've got all the


twisted brances, and you got the

wintry body

No. of alternative



Reader 3

Problem 1:
"dropping its silk
and linen leaves"


nature is ... personifield...the

autumn loses her leaves...for
trees leaves are also dress

Problem 2a:

this body of a tree which is

"tawdry veined body"

without any tree which is

without any dress now



Problem 2b:

autumn could be woman's age ...

"twisted upon itself

this word twisted, twisted upon

like a winter wind"

itself like a winter wind it

brings some feeling that ... it


could be connected with ... age

No. of alternative




(1.) This empirical study was supported by a Ben-Gurion University Faculty Research Grant and a Bar-Ilan
University Faculty Research Grant. Previous versions of this paper were delivered at the 11th meeting of the
European Society for Cognitive Psychology (1998) and at the International Conference on "The Work of Fiction:
Cognitive Perspectives" (2001).

(2.) There are currently several dominant theories of metaphor, each implicating a different act of cognition:
Comparison (Tversky); Analogy (Gentner et al.); Categorization (Glucksberg and Keysar); Conceptualization
(Lakoff and Turner); and Representation (Kittay). Interaction theory implicates Perception; our particular
variant implicates Problem Solving. As Gibbs sums it up, "No single theory provides a comprehensive account of
how people understand all kinds of metaphorical language" (262).

(3.) The essay by Glicksohn and Goodblatt discusses several of the forms that Interaction theory has taken in
recent years and also provides the conceptual basis for the empirical studies published by Goodblatt, cited
throughout the present paper.

(4.) Between 1901 and the 1920's, one school of thought (that of Edward B. Titchener, at Cornell University)
claimed that all thought was expressed concretely in images. The alternative position (that of the Wurzburg
school), was that some thought (especially that of a propositional nature) was imageless (Humphrey). This
same debate repeated itself 50-60 years later in cognitive psychology (Kosslyn) and continues to this day. In
fact, Imagism itself has been recently recruited to the cause (Crisp).

(5.) During his stay in Germany, Hulme come into contact with several German intellectuals, including Theodore
Lipps, a psychologist of note (Hynes xxi; Boring 455). In addition, his Plan for a Book on Modern Theories of Art
explicitly emphasizes both Lipps and the "German psychologica1 systems" (Hulme 26 1-64).

(6.) It should be noted that the study reported here is part of a larger one, involving both the poem by Williams
and one presented subsequently, the poem by Dylan Thomas "After the Funeral." When the same analysis was
conducted with respect to the second part of the experiment, entailing the text by Thomas, the 8 better readers
provided much longer protocols (M= 46.69, SD = 20.68) than did the 9 others (M = 24.88, SD = 7.53),
confirmed by a t-test (after the data were log-transformed, due to heteroscedasticity; t = 3.13, df = 15, p < .

(7.) The phrase "twisted upon itself like a winter wind" is a simile. We have chosen not to mark it in the text
because we uphold the distinction between a metaphor and a simile (Glicksohn; Glicksohn and Goodblatt).

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Chanita Goodblatt (chanita@bgumail.bgu.ac.il) is a senior lecturer in the department of foreign literatures &
linguistics at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. She has published articles on metaphor and poetry in Poetics
Today, Language and Literature, Journal of Literary Semantics, and Empirical Studies of the Arts.

Joseph Glicksohn is an associate professor in the department of criminology at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. He
has published articles on metaphor and thought in Poetics Today, Metaphor and Symbol, Pragmatics and
Cognition, and The Journal of Mind and Behavior.

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