For decision makers to be effective in a world of mass communication and global interaction, they must understand the shared concepts and worldviews of members of other cultures of interest. Recognizing cultural norms is a significant challenge, however, because they tend to be hidden. Even cultural natives have difficulty defining them because they form the tacit backdrop against which members of a culture interact and behave. We tend to notice them only when they are in conflict with the norms of other cultures. Such differences may cause discomfort or frustration and may lead to flawed interpretations about the intent or motivation of others. If we are to interact successfully on the world stage, we must have resources that will help us recognize norms across cultures. The Metaphor Program will exploit the use of metaphors by different cultures to gain insight into their cultural norms.

Metaphors have been known since Aristotle (Poetics) as poetic or rhetorical devices that are unique, creative instances of language artistry (e.g., The world is a stage). Over the last 30 years, metaphors have been shown to be pervasive in everyday language and reveal how people in a culture define and understand the world around them.

  • Metaphors shape how people think about complex topics and can influence beliefs.
  • Metaphors can reduce the complexity of meaning associated with a topic by capturing or expressing patterns.
  • Metaphors are associated with affect; affect influences behavior.
  • Research on metaphors has uncovered inferred meanings and worldviews of particular groups or individuals: Characterization of disparities in social issues and contrasting political goals; exposure of inclusion and exclusion of social and political groups; understanding of psychological problems and conflicts.

Related Publications

To access Metaphor program-related publications, please visit Google Scholar.

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Contact Information

Program Manager

Main Office

Related Program(s)

Broad Agency Announcement (BAA)

Link(s) to BAA


Solicitation Status


Proposers' Day Date

April 13, 2011

BAA Release Date

May 20, 2011

Prime Performers

  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Illinois Institute of Technology
  • Raytheon BBN Technologies
  • State University of New York - Research Foundation
  • University of California, Berkeley

Additional Information