Does negation entail affirmation? The case of negated metaphors

How do people understand negated assertions? Negation may function like affirmation if it focuses on the counterfactual situation, i.e., the situation ruled out by the statement. Alternatively, negation could shift focus from the counterfactual to the factual situation referred to in the statement. We tested these hypotheses in a study employing a lexical decision task. Participants read affirmative and negated assertions such as this lawyer is/is not a shark and then made lexical decisions to terms related either to the affirmative or negative meaning (e.g., vicious; gentle). In early stages of comprehension, both the negated and affirmative assertions facilitated the accessibility of affirmative-related terms. After 1000 ms, the affirmative assertions continued to facilitate affirmative-related terms, but the negated assertions no longer did so. These results suggest that negations are initially represented as affirmation. We discuss implications for current theories of negation.