Remember hard but think softly: Metaphorical effects of hardness/softness on cognitive functions

Jiushu Xie, Zhi Lu, Ruiming Wang, Zhenguang G. Cai

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Previous studies have found that bodily stimulation, such as hardness biases social judgment and evaluation via metaphorical association; however, it remains unclear whether bodily stimulation also affects cognitive functions, such as memory and creativity. The current study used metaphorical associations between “hard” and “rigid” and between “soft” and “flexible” in Chinese, to investigate whether the experience of hardness affects cognitive functions whose performance depends prospectively on rigidity (memory) and flexibility (creativity). In Experiment 1, we found that Chinese-speaking participants performed better at recalling previously memorized words while sitting on a hard-surface stool (the hard condition) than a cushioned one (the soft condition). In Experiment 2, participants sitting on a cushioned stool outperformed those sitting on a hard-surface stool on a Chinese riddle task, which required creative/flexible thinking, but not on an analogical reasoning task, which required both rigid and flexible thinking. The results suggest the hardness experience affects cognitive functions that are metaphorically associated with rigidity or flexibility. They support the embodiment proposition that cognitive functions and representations can be grounded in bodily states via metaphorical associations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1343
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 12 Sep 2016


  • embodied cognition
  • metaphor
  • tactile sensation
  • hardness
  • softness
  • memory
  • creativity
  • cognitive function

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