“Hot-Headed” Is More Than an Expression: The Embodied Representation
of Anger in Terms of Heat
Benjamin M. Wilkowski
University of Wyoming Brian P. Meier
Michael D. Robinson
North Dakota State University Margaret S. Carter
University of Rochester
Anger is frequently referred to in terms of heat-related metaphors (e.g., hot-headed). The metaphoric
representation perspective contends that such metaphors are not simply a poetic means of expressing
anger but actually reflect the manner in which the concept of anger is cognitively represented. Drawing
upon this perspective, the present studies examined the idea that the cognitive representation of anger is
systematically related to the cognitive representation of heat. A total of 7 studies, involving 438
participants, provided support for this view. Visual depictions of heat facilitated the use of anger-related
conceptual knowledge, and this occurred in tasks involving lexical stimuli as well as facial expressions.
Furthermore, priming anger-related thoughts led participants to judge unfamiliar cities and the actual
room temperature as hotter in nature. The results are discussed in terms of their implications for
embodied views of emotion concepts and their potential social consequences.
Keywords: anger, heat, metaphor, embodiment, social cognition
When speaking about anger, people from multiple cultures
spontaneously employ heat-related metaphors (Ko¨vecses, 2000).
For example, English speakers refer to anger in terms of one’s
blood “boiling” (Lakoff, 1987). Similarly, speakers of Tunisian
Arabic describe their anger using phrases like “your make my
brain burn” (Maalej, 2004), and Japanese speakers use similar
phrases like “my head got hot” (Ko¨vecses, 2000). It is also notable
that anger-induced aggression is referred to as an “explosion,” and
successfully controlling one’s anger is conceptualized in terms of
“keeping one’s cool” (Lakoff, 1987).
Traditionally, it has been thought that such metaphors are
merely a convenient means of expressing abstract ideas (e.g.,
Fainsilber & Ortony, 1989). However, this position has recently
been challenged in psycholinguistic circles. Lakoff (1987); Gibbs
(1994), and others (e.g., Ko¨vecses, 2000) contend that anger-
related metaphors capture something important and basic to the
manner in which abstract concepts are cognitively represented.
Metaphors are specifically seen as useful in grounding abstract
concepts (e.g., anger) in terms of concrete physical experiences
(e.g., heat). When a child begins to learn the difference between
emotional experiences, communicating such differences can be
inherently difficult. Consider the following dialogue sequence
from the TV show, Star Trek: The Next Generation (Taylor,
Moore, & Singer, 1993), in which the android (i.e., robot) char-
acter, Data, is attempting to discern if he has felt anger for the first
GEORDI: Data . . . no offense, but how would you know an actual
flash of anger from some kind of odd power surge?
DATA: You are correct in that I have no frame of reference to confirm
my hypothesis. . . Perhaps you could describe what it feels like when
you get angry . . . I could then use that as a reference.
GEORDI: Well . . . when I get angry, first I. . . begin to feel . . .
hostile. . .
DATA: Could you describe feeling hostile?
GEORDI: It’s like feeling . . . belligerent. . . combative. . .
DATA: Can you describe feeling angry without referring to other
GEORDI: No. I guess I can’t. I just . . . feel angry.
Benjamin M. Wilkowski, University of Wyoming; Brian P. Meier,
Gettysburg College; Michael D. Robinson, North Dakota State University;
Margaret S. Carter, Gettysburg College; Roger Feltman, University of
The first author acknowledges support from NSF’s Experimental Pro-
gram to Stimulate Competitive Research (NSF/EPSCoR). The second
author acknowledges the support of students (Maura Downey, Kate Har-
grove, Dave Hauser, Alicia Kelly, Claire Kelly, Anna Markowtiz, Andrew
Mitchell, Brita Robson, Matt Salter, Sarah Sherman, Megan Tanguay, and
Lauren Von Heill) from his Spring, 2007 Experimental Social Psychology
course at Gettysburg College.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Benjamin
M. Wilkowski, University of Wyoming, Department of Psychology, Depart-
ment 3415, 1000 East University Avenue, Laramie, WY 82071. E-mail:
Emotion © 2009 American Psychological Association
2009, Vol. 9, No. 4, 464– 477 1528-3542/09/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/a0015764
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.