Cold metaphor has literal basis

NLP is often criticised for lacking scientific credentials. However there are plenty of studies in experimental psychology that validate the assumptions of NLP.

One important assumption of NLP is that apparently metaphorical language can be often be usefully interpreted as literal descriptions of our internal states i.e. when someone says something like “the world seems grey” or “I have a very clear idea” they are in fact referring to features of their own internal representations (in this case visual representations).

A recent psychology study at the University of Toronto provides experimental evidence to back up this idea. They investigated the common metaphor of coldness which is associated with social exclusion, as in being “frozen out”, an “icy stare” or being given “the cold shoulder”.

In one experiment a group of 65 subjects were asked to recall either a socially excluding memory or a socially inclusive one. Immediately afterwards they were asked to estimate the air temperature in the room. Those who had recalled the socially excluding experience on average estimated the temperature to be 3C lower than those who had recalled an inclusive experience. They literally felt colder.

In a second experiment subjects participated in a simple game of throwing and catching a ball. Half of the group were thrown the ball multiple times whilst half of the group were only thrown it twice and then ignored for the rest of the session. They were then asked to take part in a food marketing survey. They were asked to rate their preference for different kinds of hot and cold food.

Those who were excluded during the ball game showed a marked preference for hot foods over those who had participated fully.

This second experiment is, I think, less impressive as the socially included group could be expected to have a higher body temperature due to the physical activity involved in throwing the ball. However, the first study shows clear evidence that apparently metaphorical language may in fact be literal descriptions of important aspects of our internal experience, an important assumption of NLP.

Source: New Scientist (24th Sept 2008) “An Icy Stare Really Does Make People Feel Cold”.

CG, 19th Oct 2008