How is Depression Conceptualized in Popular Science Articles in Psychology Today? Conceptual Metaphor Analysis

Term Paper, 2022

23 Pages, Grade: 3,0



Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Theoretical basis
2.1 Basic terminology
2.2 Metaphorical ICM’s
2.3 Novel metaphor

3. Corpus and method
3.1 Corpus
3.2 Method

4. Analysis
4.6 Metaphorical scenario: Living with depression is boating

5. Summary



1. Introduction

As stated by “Anxiety and Depression Association of America” (ADAA), 264 million people worldwide live with the mood disorder depression. According to the Oxford Learners Dictionary, depression is “a medical condition in which a person feels very sad and anxious and often has physical symptoms such as being unable to sleep etc.” (see OLD, depression ). On the other hand, according to the American Psychological Association (APA),

“depression is more than just sadness. People with depression may experience a lack of interest and pleasure in daily activities, significant weight loss or gain, insomnia or excessive sleeping, lack of energy, inability to concentrate, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.”

Metaphorical expressions are frequently used in everyday communication to refer to abstract concepts, for instance feelings or mental states (Kauschke et al. 2018). Metaphors are one of the linguistic tools that are used to frame mental health problems, verbalize and describe disease conditions. Hence, psychological disorders can be metaphorically described as places in space where someone has fallen into or as adversaries that need to be fought against (Reali et al. 2015).

Based on the principles of the Conceptual Metaphor Theory developed by Lakoff & Johnson, McMullen & Conway (2002) and Charteris-Black (2012), have studied metaphors of depression. McCullen & Conway (2002) draw upon data which is collected from a study of client depression-related metaphors through psychotherapy sessions to show the pervasiveness of specific conceptual metaphors. Charteris-Black (2012) looked at metaphors of depression in interviews of people who had experienced it .

This project work is going to examine and analyze how depression is conceptualized in magazine articles. My analysis is based on the Conceptual Metaphor Theory established by Lakoff and Johnson (1980). First, I will give a theoretical overview concerning Lakoff & Johnson’s theory. Secondly, both the language material (corpus) and the method used to analyze it will be presented. The analysis of the language material will be presented in chapter four, followed by a summary which will conclude the findings.

2. Theoretical basis

This chapter consists of basic terminology based on Lakoff & Johnson’s Conceptual Metaphor Theory. This theory is the basis for most of the findings in chapter four, the analysis. Moreover, the idea behind the ICM’s (idealized cognitive models) and novel metaphor will be captured briefly.

2.1 Basic terminology

The classic view on metaphors established by Aristotle says that metaphors are figures of speech that deviate from habitual language (Jäkel 2003: 86). On the other hand, Lakoff & Johnson, who collaborated in “Metaphors we live by” (1980) claim that metaphors are not only stylistic devices, but that they are rather part of people’s everyday life. According to them (1980: 3), metaphors reveal how we as human beings perceive the world and structure our experiences, also how we relate to these and other people. Furthermore, metaphors are not only a part of speech but also a part of our actions and thought process (ibid.). These concepts are “fundamentally metaphorically in nature” (ibid.). As stated by Lakoff and Johnson, the way we perceive our realities and thus act and think happen unconsciously in forms of metaphors (ibid.). Metaphor can be defined as “understanding one conceptual domain in terms of another conceptual domain”, called systematicity (Kövecses 2010: 4).

First, it is necessary to distinguish linguistic metaphors from conceptual metaphors. While conceptual metaphors are overreaching cross-domain mappings which influence thinking, linguistic metaphors are the linguistic realizations of those conceptual metaphors (ibid.). In cognitive linguistic theory a conceptual domain is understood in terms of another conceptual domain. We talk and think about abstract things in terms of practical things. This is called a conceptual metaphor, a metaphor of thought and action (Kövesces 2010: 25). Metaphors consist of source and target domains whereby the source domain is more physical while the target is a more abstract type of domain (Köveces 2010: 17). The more abstract domain is called target domain which is understood using the source domain, the more concrete domain (Kövecses 2010: 4). To explain this concept, Lakoff (1993) uses one of the most common conceptual metaphors LOVE IS A JOURNEY from his publication. People often tend to use phrases related to a journey to describe the matter of love. The following ordinary English sentences (Lakoff 1993: 206) show how the emotion of love is clarified through the metaphor of journeys:

“Look how far we’ve come

“It’s been a long bumpy road.

The linguistic metaphorical expressions in italics can form an overreaching conceptual metaphor, LOVE IS A JOURNEY. The relationship up until this point of time is described as a journey, the lovers refer to themselves as travelers. Hence, people understand and experience love in terms of journey (Lakoff 1993: 205), such connections are “the systematic set of correspondences” (mappings) which characterize the LOVE IS A JOURNEY conceptual metaphor (Kövecses 2010: 9). Those mappings occur in the forms of TARGET-DOMAIN IS SOURCE- DOMAIN or TARGET-DOMAIN AS SOURCE-DOMAIN (Lakoff 1993: 207). Hereby love is the TARGET-DOMAIN and journey the SOURCE-DOMAIN. The actual mapping is made from ontological correspondences between the two domains as Lakoff’s example shows:

The lovers correspond to travelers.
The love relationship corresponds to the vehicle.
The lovers ́ common goals correspond to their common destinations on the journey.
Difficulties in the relationship correspond to impediments to travel.
(Lakoff 1993: 207)

Moreover, metaphor highlights some aspects of the target concept and hides some other aspects of the same concept (Lakoff & Johnson 1980: 10). Considering the conceptual metaphor LOVE IS A JOURNEY, the relationships’ progress is highlighted. Contrary to that, the conceptual metaphor LOVE IS WAR centers on the relationships’ pugnacity, whereby both lovers are viewed as opponents. This hides the progress of the relationship.

2.2 Metaphorical ICM’s

Idealized cognitive models are shaped knowledge structures that form the cognitive background for our actions in the world of life, including our understanding of language (cf. Jäkel 2003: 138). Generally, Lakoff attributes a theory-like status to the ICM’s (1987: 45): “cognitive models ... can be viewed as ’theories' of some subject matter.” When it comes to systematic connections between several conceptual metaphors, we speak of metaphorical models. An overarching structural metaphor like LOVE IS A JOURNEY forms a consistent whole with several subordinate metaphors like LOVE PARTNERS ARE TRAVELERS and THE RELATIONSHIP IS A VEHICLE. This may include orientational metaphors such as POSITIVE DEVELOPMENT OF THE RELATIONSHIP IS A FORWARD MOTION (cf. Jäkel 2003: 140). For the analysis of metaphorical ICMs, Lakoff introduces the concept of scenario, defining it as a subtype of ICM’s. Scenarios are “structured by a SOURCE-PATH-GOAL schema in the time domain.” Among the relations are “causal relations, identity relations” and a purpose structure” (Lakoff 1987: 285-286).

2.3 Novel metaphor

The conceptual system underlying a language contains a multitude of conceptual metaphors (Lakoff 1993: 239). Except for image metaphors, novel metaphors are extensions of this large conventional system (Lakoff 1993: 240). Lakoff’s example “We’re driving in the fast lane on the freeway of love” builds on the conceptual metaphor LOVE IS A JOURNEY. Even though the words fast and freeway are not conventionally used for love, the knowledge structures associated with them are mapped to LOVE IS A JOURNEY (Lakoff 1993: 211). Although novel metaphors are common, their occurrence is rare compared with conventional metaphors, occurring in most of the sentences we utter (Lakoff 1993: 237).

3. Corpus and method

3.1 Corpus

The corpus for this paper consists of seven magazine articles taken from Psychology Today, an American general-interest psychology magazine. The articles were accessed on the 17th of September and 8th of October.
The language material, consisting of 7,163 words, was examined as described in the following.

3.2 Method

First, I chose an abstract language domain. Possible topics and domains were conveyed in the seminar as inspiration. I was interested in health issues which led me to DEPRESSION. Next, a language corpus on the topic was compiled, looking for specific magazine articles. In the search tool of Psychology Today, “depression” was entered. The first two articles were self-tests and the other two were short texts which did not provide enough content, so they were disregarded. The search was expanded by adding “students” to the browser tool. I ignored the first three articles (self-tests) and the fourth article (rather a report on one’s experiences with depression). Three articles were chosen from the first page. The next two articles were found on the fifth and sixth page of Psychology Today. Articles in between were ignored due to their shortness or inadequacy compared to the other articles. The corpus has been expanded by two more articles. Together, they are sufficient as a corpus for metaphor analysis. Three articles are short-to-medium in length while the other four ones are somewhat longer. To analyze the corpus, I followed instructions by Jäkel from “ Wie Metaphern Wissen schaffen” (2003), where a specific guide on analyzing metaphors is outlined (onomasiological-cognitive metaphor analysis). Since the language must exemplify the chosen text type and be selected objectively, all linguistic metaphors on DEPRESSION were identified. They were then metaphorically identified using conventional metaphors. All metaphorical expressions that belong to the same source domains were grouped systematically to formulate the respective conceptual metaphors they instantiate (cf. Jäkel 2003: 142). A conceptual metaphor was formulated only if at the least three linguistic metaphors realizing it were identified.


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How is Depression Conceptualized in Popular Science Articles in Psychology Today? Conceptual Metaphor Analysis
University of Flensburg
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Conceptual metaphor, illness, source domain, target domain, depression
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Anonymous, 2022, How is Depression Conceptualized in Popular Science Articles in Psychology Today? Conceptual Metaphor Analysis, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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