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Aptness and beauty in metaphor


Metaphors are comparisons that link dissimilar conceptual domains. We hypothesized that the aptness of a metaphor is linked to the reader’s experience of beauty, and that age and expertise influence these aesthetic judgments. We had young adults, literary experts, and elderly adults rate metaphors for beauty or aptness. Experimental materials consisted of single-sentence novel metaphors whose familiarity, figurativeness, imageability, interpretability, and overall valence ratings were known. Results suggest that beauty and aptness of metaphors are linked for elderly adults but are orthogonal for young adults and literary experts. Elderly participants seem to conflate emotional content with aptness. Young adults are most swayed by a perceived feeling of familiarity when rating for aptness, but not for beauty. Literary experts are relatively unaffected by the psycholinguistic variables, suggesting an emotionally distanced approach to these sentences. Individual differences in literary training and life experience have varying effects on the aesthetic experience of metaphor in regard to beauty and aptness.

Corresponding author
Address for correspondence: Marguerite McQuire, Department of Neurology, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, University of Pennsylvania, 3720 Walnut Street B-51, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6241; tel: (857) 928-3234; e-mail:
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This research was supported by a National Institute of Health grant (R01-DC012511) awarded to Anjan Chatterjee, a National Institute of Health training grant (T32AG000255-16). The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

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