I’ve got it! I know how we can test conceptual metaphor theory in the domain of time. Yesterday I argued that the problem with the experiments published so far is that it’s impossible to distinguish mere lexical priming (priming spatial meanings of the terms, which influences subsequent temporal reasoning) from conceptual priming due to metaphorical mappings between time and space. As I was walking across campus today, I came up with an idea. Now, this idea is in its infancy, but I bet some of you can help me with it. Of course, I don’t actually plan on running this experiment, because coming up with the stimuli is going to be a lot of work (I’ll explain why in a minute), but there are tons of cognitive linguists out there with nothing better to do, so if upon further reflection, and any revisions you and I can come up with, the experiment seems like it might actually help to solve the problems with the previous experiments, we can always suggest it to them.
If you recall from the post on false memories in bilinguals the other day (assuming you read it, which is a big assumption), within the Deese-Roediger-McDermott paradigm, memory accuracy tends to improve for both list words (words that were actually on the to-be-remembered list) and critical lures (words that are primed by the words on the to-be-remembered list) after the first few recognition trials. This is generally believed to be the result of the loss of conceptual information in memory, and an increased reliance on lexical information (information about the words themselves, and not their meanings).
You can probably see where I’m going with this. Conceptual metaphor theory states that our concept TIME is metaphorically structured, and receives much of its content, through its mapping to our concept SPACE. In order to provide nonlinguistic empirical evidence for this, we would need to sort the conceptual information from the influence of the lexical information shared by the words we use to talk about time and space. Here’s how I think we could do this. We compile two word lists that only include words that are used to talk about time, and not space. One list would prime the concept FUTURE, and the other would prime the concept PAST. These will be the target lists. Each participant would learn one target list, along with several other word lists that prime concepts unrelated to time or space. In the memory test, participants would receive a word list that includes some words that were actually on the word lists they saw, along with the usual critical lures for the non target lists. However, in place of the usual lures for the target lists (FUTURE or PAST), they would receive the spatial terms used to talk about FUTURE and PAST, namely “in front” and “behind.” Again, if TIME is metaphorically structured through its mappings to SPACE, we would predict that priming FUTURE would also prime IN FRONT, and priming PAST would also prime BEHIND. Therefore, we would expect to see false memories for the spatial words on the first couple memory trials, and over time, the rate at which participants falsely remembered having seen these words on the target lists would drop significantly. This would be a clear indication that the TIME concept includes conceptual information from the SPACE concept.
What do you think?
UPDATE: I forgot to say why it would be difficult to come up with the stimuli for the experiment. To come up with word lists for use in the DRM paradigm, you have to first show that your lists work. That means you have to show that they prime your concept in the vast majority of participants (80-90%). In this case, that’s made all the more difficult by the fact that in the target lists, you can’t use spatial terms, and many of the words we use to talk about the future and the past are spatial, which was the inspiration for the theory in the first place. And you need 10-12 words for each list.