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Varieties of abstract concepts and their multiple dimensions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 August 2019

CATERINA VILLANI*
Affiliation:
Department of Philosophy and Communication, University of Bologna, Italy
LUISA LUGLI
Affiliation:
Department of Philosophy and Communication, University of Bologna, Italy
MARCO TULLIO LIUZZA
Affiliation:
Department of Medical and Surgery Sciences, University of Catanzaro, Italy
ANNA M. BORGHI*
Affiliation:
Department of Dynamic and Clinical Psychology, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy, and Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies, Italian National Research Council, Italy
*
Caterina Villani, Department of Philosophy and Communication, University of Bologna, via Azzo Gardino, 23, Bologna, 40122, Italy. e-mail: caterina.villani6@unibo.it
Addresses for correspondence: Anna M. Borghi, Department of Dynamic and Clinical Psychology, Sapienza University of Rome, Via degli Apuli 1, Roma, 00185, Italy. e-mail: anna.borghi@uniroma1.it;

Abstract

The issue of how abstract concepts are represented is widely debated. However, evidence is controversial, also because different criteria were used to select abstract concepts – for example, imageability and abstractness were equated. In addition, for many years abstract concepts have been considered as a unitary whole. Our work aims to address these two limitations. We asked participants to evaluate 425 abstract concepts on 15 dimensions: abstractness, concreteness, imageability, context availability, Body-Object-Interaction, Modality of Acquisition, Age of Acquisition, Perceptual modality strength, Metacognition, Social metacognition, Interoception, Emotionality, Social valence, Hand and Mouth activation. Results showed that conceiving concepts only in terms of concreteness/abstractness is too simplified. More abstract concepts are typically acquired later and through the linguistic modality and are characterized by high scores in social metacognition (feeling that others can help us in understanding word meaning), while concrete concepts obtain high scores in Body-Object-Interaction, imageability, and context availability. A cluster analysis indicated four kinds of abstract concepts: philosophical-spiritual (e.g., value), self-sociality (e.g., politeness), emotive/inner states (e.g., anger), and physical, spatio-temporal, and quantitative concepts (e.g., reflex). Overall, results support multiple representation views indicating that sensorimotor, inner, linguistic, and social experience have different weights in characterizing different kinds of abstract concepts.

Type
Article
Copyright
Copyright © UK Cognitive Linguistics Association 2019 

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Footnotes

*

Compliance with Ethical Standards: Funding: This study was funded by Sapienza University of Rome, Progetti di Ricerca Grandi, project “Abstract concepts, language and sociality” – protocol n. RG11715C7F1549F7 to A. M. Borghi. Conflict of Interest: None of the authors has conflicts of interest. Ethical approval: All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent: Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study. We would like to thank Laura Barca, Chiara Fini, Claudia Mazzuca, and Luca Tummolini for comments and discussions.

References

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