Situating Abstract Concepts by L. Barsalou and K. Wiemer-Hastings

This, like many treatments of ‘abstract concepts’, focuses on potentially emotive concepts like ‘anger’ and ‘truth’, which limits its relevance to what I’m doing here. Still, it’s important context.

Hypothesis 1: Concrete and abstract concepts share situational content

Hypothesis 2: Concrete and abstract concepts differ in situational focus – for concrete, attention is on the object in a situation, but abstract are event and introspective aspects

Hypothesis 3: Abstract concepts are more complex than concrete ones

Hypothesis 4: The content of abstract concepts could, in principle, be situated

“We have increasingly come to believe that abstract concepts seem ‘abstract’ because their content is distributed across situations.”

There’s support in their findings for hypotheses 1, 2 and 3, though this is really a preliminary study. Abstract concepts tended to be described more in social and introspective/relational terms.


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