Date of Award

Summer 7-24-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Psychology



First Advisor

Allard, Eric

Second Advisor

Vail, Kenneth

Third Advisor

Slifkin, Andrew

Subject Headings

Cognitive Psychology, Psychology


Embodied theories presume that concepts are modality specific while symbolic theories suggest that all modalities for a given concept are integrated. Symbolic and embodied theories do fairly well with explaining and describing concrete concepts. Specifically, embodied theories seem well suited to describing the actual content of a concept while symbolic theories provide insight into how concepts operate. Conversely, neither symbolic nor embodied theories have been fully sufficient when attempting to describe and explain abstract concepts. Several pluralistic accounts have been put forth to describe how the semantic/lexical system interacts with the conceptual system. In this respect, they attempt to “embody” abstract concepts to the same extent as concrete concepts. Nevertheless, a concise and comprehensive theory for explaining how we learn/understand abstract concepts to the extent that we learn/understand concrete concepts remains elusive. One goal of the present review paper is to consider if abstract concepts can be defined by a unified theory or if subsets of abstract concepts will be defined by separate theories. Of particular focus will be Symbolic Interdependency Theory (SIT). It will be argued that SIT is suitable for grounding abstract concepts, as this theory infers that symbols bootstrap meaning from other symbols, highlighting the importance of abstract-to-abstract mapping in the same way that concrete-to-abstract mappings are created. Research will be considered to help outline a cohesive strategy for describing and understanding abstract concepts. Finally, as research has demonstrated efficiencies with concrete concept processing, analogous efficiencies will be explored for developing an understanding of abstract concepts. Such efforts could have both theoretical and practical implications for bolstering our knowledge of concept learning.