Power metaphor as size difference

A.A. Baltaretu, J. Schilperoord, Guliz Salami

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractOther research output


For conceptualizing power we often employ metaphors that tap into our spatial perception. Powerful people are considered to be up in the hierarchy and have control over people with low status. Moreover, big / colossal / massive animals are powerful, while small / little / tiny creatures are weak. “Physical size typically correlates with physical strength, and the victor in a fight is typically on top” (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980, p. 15). Thus, power can be represented both as a vertical (Shubert, 2005) and as a size difference (Schubert, Waldzus, & Giessner, 2009). However, a direct comparison of these two representations has not been undertaken. In a perception experiment, we tested whether being powerful is associated stronger with position in space or with size. The materials consisted of 24 sentences expressing power or equality relations. Each sentence had an agent and a patient (a blue and a green circle), whose roles had been counterbalanced (resulting in 48 sentences per subject). Under each sentence a sequence of eight pictures was displayed. The pictures depicted 6 possible combinations of size (big / small circles) and verticality (circles aligned horizontally or vertically), and two combinations of equally small circles vertically aligned. 40 participants answered which one of eight pictures best represented the sentence. The results are in line with previous finding that mental representations of power are not only associated with vertical differences, but also with size cues. Our study, however, also shows that power relations are associated stronger with size differences than with vertical differences.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Event5th UK Cognitive Linguistics Conference - Lancaster, United Kingdom
Duration: 29 Jul 201431 Jul 2014


Conference5th UK Cognitive Linguistics Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • cognitive metaphor
  • power relations


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