Drivers of cultural success: The case of sensory metaphors.

E. Akpinar, Jonah Berger

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Why do some cultural items catch on and become more popular than others? Language is one of the basic foundations of culture. But what leads some phrases to become more culturally successful? There are multiple ways to convey the same thing and phrases with similar meanings often act as substitutes, competing for usage. A not so friendly person, for example, can be described as unfriendly or cold. We study how the senses shape cultural success, suggesting that compared with their semantic equivalents (e.g., unfriendly person), phrases which relate to senses in metaphoric ways (e.g., cold person) should be more culturally successful. Data from 5 million books over 200 years support this prediction: Sensory metaphors are used more frequently over time than are their semantic equivalents. Experimental evidence demonstrates that sensory metaphors are more memorable because they relate more to the senses and have more associative cues. These findings shed light on how senses shape language and the psychological foundations of culture more broadly. (
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20
Number of pages34
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2015


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