A new study says that, understanding others' emotions and highlighting social bonds can be increased by use of metaphors.
The study conducted at University of Ontario suggested that using metaphors can actually help in reading minds.
Andrea Bowes and Albert Katz from the university showed that people were better able to infer the mental and emotional state of others after reading metaphors whether embedded in passages or just by themselves.
The ability to understand what another person might be feeling or thinking is called Theory of Mind by experts. It is found to differing degrees with each person, and is often impaired in autistic populations. One way that Theory of Mind is tested is through the Reading the Mind in the Eye Test (RMET), in which participants have to correctly identify the emotions or mental state displayed in black and white photographs of 36 pairs of eyes. Bowes and Katz showed that reading metaphors led to better performance on the RMET than reading literal sentence counterparts.
In another study, they were given short stories and asked to rate the speakers on a variety of interpersonal and social characteristics and speakers who used metaphors in conversation with one another were also judged to be closer friends than those who did not use this figure of speech.
The evidence suggests that the mere act of reading metaphors activates embodied social experiences as part of the act of comprehension and this helps a person to be more sensitized to the mental states of others and to a greater extent than when they are reading literal sentences.
Bowes said that the research explains why they spoke differently with friends and family than with strangers, and showed how they made friends and met partners simply with the style of language they used.
The study is published in Springer's journal Memory and Cognition.