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Israel, June 2001

Metaphor Comprehension as Problem Solving:
An On-Line Study of the Reading Process

David Hanauer, Tel-Aviv University

Chanita Goodblatt, Ben-Gurion University
Joseph Glicksohn, Bar-Ilan University

Ziva Ben-Porat, Tel-Aviv University
David Miall, University of Alberta

This workshop will provide the conference participants an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in an on-line study of metaphor comprehension. The theoretical framework has been published in Pragmatics and Cognition, Poetics Today, Empirical Studies of the Arts, and Journal of Literary Semantics.

This framework integrates the paradigm established by Gestalt psychology with the Interaction theory of metaphor. Interaction theory advocates a process-oriented approach, which views the reader as being faced with a problem-situation presented by the metaphor and the text. This conception of the reading process continues the line of argument made by Wertheimer in his discussion of problem solving. One objective of our study was therefore to provide empirical support for viewing metaphor comprehension in terms of "problem solving" (which involves cognitive processes such as constructing a problem space, generating inferences, retrieval of analogies, conceptualization, perception, deduction and hypothesis-testing), as students of literature begin to unravel a literary text.

The participants will be asked to read a literary text presented on a computer screen, and to provide an on-line verbal report of their process of comprehension. The text will unfold over a series of trials, such that at each trial more and more text will appear on the screen. At certain points in the text, the reader will encounter a targeted metaphor appearing in boldface print. During each such trial, the reader will be required to focus on the task of metaphor comprehension. Ratings of the metaphor, using a number of scales, will also be made on-line in each of these specific trials, after the metaphor has been discussed.

Key questions for discussion during the workshop:

  1. Is there evidence for an act of problem solving on the part of the reader?
  2. Is there evidence for a process of textual interpretation, involving revising one's comprehension?
  3. Does the reader turn to an analysis of semantic fields in the reading?
  4. Is there evidence for an act of semantic restructuring in the verbal report?
  5. In the reading, is there evidence for an act indicative of interactive processing?






Maintained by Francis F. Steen, Communication Studies, University of California Los Angeles