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When is literal meaning inhibited? Evidence from nonsense in the metaphor-induced lexical forgetting paradigm

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journal contribution
posted on 21.08.2019, 00:00 by Tim George, Jennifer Wiley
A common feature of metaphoric language processing is a conflict between literal and figurative aspects of meaning. A consequence of this is the need to select the most appropriate meaning amongst competing associates when we encounter such phrases. The goal of the present experiments was to adapt the “impossible” retrieval approach of previous retrieval-induced and problem-solving-induced forgetting (RIF; PSIF) studies in order to test for the use of inhibitory mechanisms during metaphor comprehension. To achieve this goal, a series of three studies assessed forgetting following the processing of nonsense metaphors which were unlikely to lead to viable interpretations within a short period of time (Jealousy is a barn). In the first two experiments, processing nonsense metaphors led to reduced recall for previously studied literal associates. In a third study, processing nonsense metaphors led to longer recognition latencies for literal associates on a cue-independent task. In contrast, no evidence of forgetting was seen due to the processing of familiar metaphors in any study. Because participants are unlikely to reach a viable interpretation of these nonsense metaphors, and because results were similar using recall and cue-independent recognition measures, these results provide novel support for an inhibitory account for this forgetting effect over a blocking or cue based interference account.


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© 2011 American Psychological Association. This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in the APA journal. It is not the copy of record. The original publication is available at; DOI:10.1037/xlm0000621


George, T., & Wiley, J. (2019). When Is Literal Meaning Inhibited? Evidence From Nonsense in the Metaphor-Induced Lexical Forgetting Paradigm. Journal of Experimental Psychology-Learning Memory and Cognition, 45(5), 869-880. doi:10.1037/xlm0000621


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