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Experiment 2

Experiment 2 aims to test the Optimal Innovation Hypothesis, which predicts that familiar metaphors and their familiar literal interpretations, rated as similarly coherent, would be similarly pleasing; however, unfamiliar metaphors, rated as less coherent with prior context than their (more familiar) literal interpretations, would be rated as more pleasing than these literal interpretations.


Participants. One hundred and fourteen Linguistics and Social Sciences undergraduates of Tel Aviv University volunteered to act as participants. They were all native speakers of Hebrew, aged 21-26.

Materials. Same as in Experiment 1.

Procedure. Participants were each presented a booklet and were asked to rate the extent to which the last (target) sentence in its given context induces pleasure on a 7 point liking/pleasurability scale (1 = least pleasing; 7 = highly pleasing).


Findings are presented in Table 2. They are consistent with the Optimal Innovation Hypothesis. Indeed, familiarity affected pleasurability. Familiar items were rated as more pleasing than unfamiliar items, F1(1,113) = 42.00, p < .0001, F2(1,34) = 9.29, p < .005. On the other hand, figurativeness, on its own, had no effect, Fi(1,113) = 2.62, n.s., F2(1,34) < 1, n.s. Importantly, however, there was an interaction between sentence type (metaphor/literal) and familiarity, F1(1,113) = 7.61, p < .01, F2(1,34) = 2.66, p = .11. This interaction was due to the fact that unfamiliar metaphors were significantly more pleasurable than their (more familiar) literal interpretations F1(1,113) = 10.75, p < 0.005, F2(1, 34) = 3.15, p = 0.085, as predicted. In contrast, the familiar metaphors and their familiar literal interpretations did not vary significantly on the pleasurability scale, neither by subject (F1 < 1) nor by item analyses (F2 < 1), as predicted.

Table 2: Familiarity and pleasure ratings (SD in parentheses)

Item type

Familiar Metaphor

Unfamiliar Metaphor

Contextual bias














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