Psikhologicheskie Issledovaniya • ISSN 2075-7999
peer-reviewed • open access journal


2020 Vol. 13 Issue 74

Shcherbakova O.V., Novikovskaia N.A. “He that has an ill name is half-hanged”? Role of verbalization in unfolding of imagery representations of concrete and abstract concepts

Full text in Russian: Щербакова О.В., Новиковская Н.А.  «Как вы яхту назовете, так она и поплывет»? Роль вербальных компонентов мышления в актуализации образной структуры абстрактных и конкретных понятий

Saint Petersburg State University, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Sirius University of Science and Technology, Sochi, Russia

About author
Suggested citation

The article is focused on one of the central issues of psychology of thinking and reasoning – the mechanism of verbal-imagery conversion underlying the distinction between essential and non-essential features of objects. It also describes the role of verbalisation in unfolding of mental images of concrete and abstract concepts.
The following hypotheses were experimentally tested: 1) quality of verbal definition of a concept correlates positively with the quality of its mental image; 2) prior formulation of verbal definition of a concept improves the quality of its mental image; 3) numbers of essential features included into both verbal and imagery representations differ between concrete and abstract concepts; 4) numbers of essential features included into representations of both concrete and abstract concepts depend on the type of preceding mental activity (verbalisation or depicting); 5) numbers of essential features included into both pictorial and verbal representations correlate with psychometric intelligence. The study comprised 61 participants (42 females, mean age = 20 years) assigned to one of the four groups (three experimental and one control condition) differing in types and numbers of experimental tasks. Participants were administered J. Raven’s Standard Progressive Matrices Test (which we used to control the level of psychometric intelligence) and either standard or modified version of “Pictograms” test.
The results showed that quality of imagery representations of concepts correlated positively with the quality of their verbal definitions; however, none of these variables was related to psychometric intelligence. Even though the second hypothesis of the study was not confirmed, verbalisation was found to lead to representation of a larger number of essential features of concepts compared to depicting. In addition, mental representations of abstract concepts appeared to include more essential features than those of concrete concepts. We interpret these findings as the evidence for integral mechanism of conceptual processing that contributes to the coordination of verbal and imagery processes. They might also highlight the lack of imagery skills in young adults due to ‘total visualisation’ of everyday cognitive and educational practices.

Keywords: conceptual thinking, concrete and abstract concepts, verbal-to-imagery conversion, mental imagery, written verbalisation, ‘Pictograms’ test, concreteness effect, essential and superficial features of concepts 

Full text in Russian >>


Acknowledgements / Acknowledgement

The authors thank Dr. Maria V. Osorina for her help in developing the criteria for pictograms assessment and valuable commentaries on the research methodology.


The study was supported by the Russian Foundation for Basic Research, project № 19-313-51016

Cyrillic letters are transliterated according to BSI standards. The titles are given in author’s translation.

Alyahya R.S.W., Halai A.D., Conroy P., Ralph M.A.L. The behavioral patterns and neural correlates of concrete and abstract verb processing in aphasia: a novel verb semantic battery. NeuroImag: Clinical, 2018, 17, 811–825. DOI: 10.1016/j.nicl.2017.12.009.

Ancyferova L.I. Introspektivnyj eksperiment i issledovanie myshleniya v Vyurcburgskoj shkole // Osnovnye napravleniya issledovanij psihologii myshleniya v kapitalisticheskih stranah. M.: Nauka, 1966. 59–82. (In Russian)

Barsalou L.W., Wiemer-Hastings K. Situating abstract concepts. Grounding cognition: The role of perception and action in memory, language, and thought. Eds. D. Pecher, R.A. Zwaan. New York, Cambridge University Press, 2005, 129–163.

Borghi A.M., Barca L., Binkofski F., Castelfranchi C., Pezzulo G., Tummolini L. Words as social tools: Language, sociality and inner grounding in abstract concepts. Physics of life reviews, 2019, 29, 120–153. DOI: 10.1016/j.plrev.2018.12.001.

Borghi A.M., Binkofski F., Castelfranchi C., Cimatti F., Scorolli C., Tummolini L. The challenge of abstract concepts. Psychological Bulletin, 2017, 143(3), 263–292. DOI: 10.1037/bul0000089.

Borghi A.M., Cimatti F. Words as tools and the problem of abstract word meanings. Proceedings of the annual meeting of the cognitive science society. Eds. N. Taatgen and H. van Rijn (Amsterdam: Cognitive Science Society), 2009, 2304–2309.

Borghi A.M., Zarcone E. Grounding abstractness: abstract concepts and the activation of the mouth. Frontiers in Psychology, 2016, 7, 1498. DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01498.

Buccino G., Colagè I., Gobbi N., Bonaccorso G. Grounding meaning in experience: A broad perspective on embodied language. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 2016, 69, 69–78. DOI: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2016.07.033.

Carpenter P.A., Just M.A., Shell P. What one intelligence test measures: a theoretical account of the processing in the Raven Progressive Matrices Test. Psychological review, 1990, 97(3), 404–431. DOI: 10.1037/0033-295X.97.3.404.

Dal' V.I. Tolkovyj slovar' zhivogo velikorusskogo yazyka: izbr. st. / V.I. Dal'; sovmeshch. red. izd. V.I. Dalya i I.A. Boduena de Kurtene; [nauch. red. L. V. Belovinskij]. M.: OLMA Media Grupp, 2009. (In Russian)

Fliessbach K., Weis S., Klaver P., Elger C.E., Weber B. The effect of word concreteness on recognition memory. NeuroImage, 2006, 32(3), 1413–1421. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2006.06.007.

Gibbs Jr.R.W. The poetics of mind: Figurative thought, language, and understanding. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Glenberg A.M., Sato M., Cattaneo L., Riggio L., Palumbo D., Buccino G. Processing abstract language modulates motor system activity. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 2008, 61(6), 905–919. DOI: 10.1080/17470210701625550.

Gostev A.A. Psihologiya vtorichnogo obraza. M.: Izd-vo «Institut psihologii RAN», 2007 (In Russian).

Hersonskij B.G. Metod piktogramm v psihodiagnostike psihicheskih zabolevanij. Kiev.: Zdorov'e, 1988. (In Russian)

Holodnaya M.A. Psihologiya intellekta. Paradoksy issledovaniya. 2-e izd., pererab. i dop. SPb.: Piter, 2002. (In Russian)

Holodnaya M.A. Psihologiya ponyatijnogo myshleniya: ot konceptual'nyh struktur k ponyatijnym sposobnostyam. M.: Izd-vo «Institut psihologii RAN», 2012. (In Russian)

Jamrozik A., McQuire M., Cardillo E.R., Chatterjee A. Metaphor: Bridging embodiment to abstraction. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 2016, 23(4), 1080–1089. DOI: 10.3758/s13423-015-0861-0.

Jessen F., Heun R., Erb M., Granath D.-O., Klose U., Papassotiropoulos A., Grodd W. The concreteness effect: Evidence for dual coding and context availability. Brain and language, 2000, 74(1), 103–112. DOI: 10.1006/brln.2000.2340.

Johnson M. The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination and Reason. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

Kyul'pe O. Sovremennaya psihologiya myshleniya // Novye idei v filosofii. Vyp. 16. SPb., 1914, 43–83. (In Russian)

Lakoff Dzh., Dzhonson M. Metafory, kotorymi my zhivem / Per. s angl. pod red. i s pre-disl. A.N. Baranova. M.: Editorial URSS, 2004. (In Russian)

List A. Drawing is Integrating: An Examination of Students’ Graphic Representations of Multiple Texts. Reading Psychology, 2019, 40(6), 491–524. DOI: 10.1080/02702711.2019.1629517.

Lyashevskaya O.N., Sharov S.A. Chastotnyj slovar' sovremennogo russkogo yazyka (na materialah Nacional'nogo korpusa russkogo yazyka). M.: Azbukovnik, 2009. (In Russian)

Mestres-Missé A., Münte T.F., Rodriguez-Fornells A. Mapping concrete and abstract meanings to new words using verbal contexts. Second Language Research, 2014, 30(2), 191–223. DOI: 0.1177/0267658313512668.

Myachykov A., Fischer MH. A hierarchical view of abstractness: Grounded, embodied, and situated aspects: Comment on “Words as social tools: Language, sociality and inner grounding in abstract concepts” by Anna M. Borghi et al. Physics of life reviews, 2019, 29, 161–163. DOI: 10.1016/j.plrev.2019.04.005.

Novikovskaya N.A., Shcherbakova O.V. Vliyanie verbalizacii ponyatiya na polnotu ego obraznoj reprezentacii // Psihologiya XXI veka: Psihologiya kak nauka, iskusstvo i prizvanie. Sb. nauchn. trudov uchastnikov Mezhdunarodnoj nauchnoj konferencii molodyh uchenyh: V. 2 t. / Pod nauch. red. A.V. Shaboltas, S.D. Gurievoj, 2018. 117–124. (In Russian)

Osorina M.V. Eksperimental'noe issledovanie obraznyh struktur na raznyh urovnyah myslitel'noj deyatel'nosti: Avtoref. dis. … kand. psihol. nauk. L., 1976. (In Russian)

Paivio A. Abstractness, imagery and meaningfulness in paired-associate learning. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 1965, No 4, 32–38.

Paivio A. Dual coding theory: Retrospect and current status. Canadian Journal of Psychology. Revue canadienne de psychologie, 1991, 45(3), 255–287. DOI: 10.1037/h0084295.

Paivio A. Mental representations: A dual coding approach. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Polyakov S.E. Fenomenologiya psihicheskih reprezentacij. SPb.: Piter, 2011. (In Russian)

Raven J. Raven’s progressive matrices: Their origin and contribution to society. Психодиагностика в социалистических странах. Психодиагностический бюллетень. I–IX. Братислава, 1985, 27–31.

Schwanenflugel P.J., Akin C., Luh W.M. Context availability and the recall of abstract and concrete words. Memory & Cognition, 1992, 20(1), 96–104.

Schwanenflugel P.J., Shoben E.J. Differential context effects in the comprehension of abstract and concrete verbal materials. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 1983, 9(1), 82–102. DOI: 10.1037/0278-7393.9.1.82.

Shcherbakova O.V. Fenomen ponimaniya kak intrapsihicheskij mezh"yazykovoj obratimyj perevod (na primere komicheskih tekstov) // Vestnik Sankt-Peterburgskogo universiteta. Seriya 12. 2008. Vyp. 3. 215–226. (In Russian)

Shcherbakova O.V., Kognitivnye mekhanizmy ponimaniya komicheskogo. Diss. na soiskanie … kand. psihol. nauk. SPb., 2009. (In Russian)

Shcherbakova O.V., Novikovskaya N.A. Strategii piktografirovaniya abstraktnyh ponyatij. Kachestvennyj analiz // Anan'evskie chteniya 2018. Psihologiya lichnosti: tradicii i sovremennost'. Sbornik ma-terialov mezhdunarodnoj nauchnoj konferencii / Pod obshch. redakciej N.V. Grishinoj, S.N. Kostrominoj; Otv. red. I.R. Murtazina, M.O. Avanesyan. 2018. 90–91. (In Russian)

Solganik G.YA. Tolkovyj slovar': yazyk gazety, radio, televideniya: okolo 10 000 slov i vyrazhenij. M.: AST: Astrel', 2008. (In Russian)

Ushakov D.N. Bol'shoj tolkovyj slovar' sovremennogo russkogo yazyka: 180 000 slov i slovosochetanij. M.: Al'ta-Print, 2007. (In Russian)

Varela F.J., Thompson E., Rosh E. The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. USA: Massachussets Institute of Technology, 2001.

Vaulina E.Yu., Gajkovich T.I., Zelenin A.V., Sklyarevskaya G.N., Shushkov A.A. Tolkovyj slovar' russkogo yazyka konca XX v. yazykovye izmeneniya: okolo 5500 slov i vyrazhenij / Pod red. G.N. Sklyarevskoj. SPb.: Folio-Press, 1998. (In Russian)

Vekker L.M. Psihika i real'nost': Edinaya teoriya psihicheskih processov. M.: Smysl; Per Se, 2000. (In Russian)

Wiemer‐Hastings K., Xu X. Content differences for abstract and concrete concepts. Cognitive science, 2005, 29(5), 719–736. DOI: 10.1207/s15516709cog0000_33.

Received 18 September 2020. Date of publication: 31 December 2020.

About author

Shcherbakova Olga V. PhD in Psychology, Associate Professor, Associate Professor at the Department of General Psychology, Faculty of Psychology, Saint Petersburg State University, Universitetskaya nab. 7/9, 199034 Saint Petersburg, Russia.
E-mail: Этот адрес электронной почты защищен от спам-ботов. У вас должен быть включен JavaScript для просмотра.

Novikovskaya Nadezhda A. Master of Psychology, Research Engineer at the Laboratory of Behavioural Neurodynamics, Saint Petersburg State University, Universitetskaya nab. 7/9, 199034 Saint Petersburg, Russia; Visiting Researcher, Sirius University of Science and Technology, Olimpiiskiy pr. 1, 354340 Sochi, Russia.
E-mail: Этот адрес электронной почты защищен от спам-ботов. У вас должен быть включен JavaScript для просмотра.

Suggested citation

Shcherbakova O.V., Novikovskaya N.A. Role of verbalization in unfolding of imagery representations of concrete and abstract concepts. Psikhologicheskie Issledovaniya, 2020, Vol. 13, No. 74, p. 6. (in Russian, abstr. in English).

Permanent URL:

Back to top >>

Related Articles