Psychonomic Bulletin & Review

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 218–226 | Cite as

On the ups and downs of emotion: testing between conceptual-metaphor and polarity accounts of emotional valence–spatial location interactions

  • Dermot Lynott
  • Kenny Coventry
Brief Report


In the past decade, many studies have focused on the relationship between emotional valence and vertical spatial positions from a processing perspective. Lakoff and Johnson’s (1980) work on conceptual metaphor has traditionally motivated these investigations, but recent work (Lakens in J Exp Psychol: Learn, Mem Cogn, 38: 726–736, 2012) has suggested that polarity-based perspectives offer an alternative account of response time patterns. We contrasted the predictions of these two theories using a new facial emotion recognition task, in which participants made speeded responses to happy or sad faces on a display, with the spatial location of those faces being manipulated. In three experiments (two-alternative forced choice tasks and a go/no-go task), we found a pattern of responses consistent with a polarity-based account, but inconsistent with key predictions of the conceptual-metaphor account. Overall, congruency effects were observed for positively valenced items, but not for negatively valenced items. These findings demonstrate that polarity effects extend to nonlinguistic stimuli and beyond two-alternative forced choice tasks. We discuss the results in terms of common-coding approaches to task–response mappings.


Emotion recognition Conceptual metaphor Spatial congruency Representation Polarity 


Author note

We thank Jeff Zacks and Louise Connell for helpful discussions in preparing this work and Daniel Lakens and Remo Job for very helpful reviews. The order of authorship is arbitrary: both authors contributed equally to the work.


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Decision and Cognitive Sciences Research Centre, Manchester Business SchoolUniversity of ManchesterManchesterUK
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyLancaster UniversityLancasterUK
  3. 3.School of Psychology, EDU Building, Faculty of Social SciencesUniversity of East Anglia, Norwich Research ParkNorwichUK

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