What I Do

I believe in sound and innovative theory work at the core of scholarship and research, and in the empirical validation of cognitive and social phenomena thorough conceptual discourse analyses, experiments & survey studies, and neuroscience. 

My work is in the discipline of Cognitive Linguistics, with a focus on embodiment, conceptual metaphor, and frames. The overarching question I ask is, How is the mind structured, where do these structures come from, and how do they impact our world perception and actions, specifically social and political actions.

A central line of my work investigates political ideology and different aspects of conservatism and liberalism, such as: moral belief systems at the foundation of attitude formation, the usage of (distinct) metaphors and frames in conservative and liberal reasoning and discourse, and differences in causal reasoning between the two political camps. As part of this research, I also investigate the impact that (moral) framing in public discourse has on political beliefs and attitudes, as well as what part of the citizenry is especially vulnerable to political framing effects.

Then, I have worked extensively in gesture research, where I focus on the embodiment, form, and function of pragmatic gestures in face-to-face discourse and in political debate. 

Moreover, I'm working together with other scholars on research that targets neural simulation, i.e., the simulation of things like 'action' or 'emotions' in the brain when processing language. Here, my work focuses on the simulation of moral (political) disgust and the relationship between political judgment and emotion. Moreover, I'm working on ways to detect simulations of micro-level differences in verb semantics. 

My Work in More Detail

Moral Politics Theory

Validation of the (conservative) strict-father and (progressive) nurturant-parent models as cognitively unified & independent belief systems tat predict conservative and liberal stances, respectively. 

  • Development of the Moral Politics Scale, an instrument that gauges strict and nurturant moral beliefs at the basis of political judgment.

  • Empirical testing of the unidirectional, causal role of the Nation-As-Family metaphor for social morality & political attitude formation.

  • Verification of the 'political middle' as as especially malleable by moral framing, and as biconceptual (utilization of two moral belief systems) vs. being a group that is moderate on all issue or ideologically void.

  • Theoretical extension to account for more diverse political systems.

  • Conceptual analyses of public discourse in US-America and Europe, targeting moral metaphors and frames, with a focus on primary morality metaphors, such as Moral Disgust and Moral Health metaphors, as well as moral frames across issue areas and moral framing-vacuums.

  • Conceptual analyses of ideological framing of Contested Concepts, such as 'freedom', 'fairness', 'equality', and 'solidarity' in European public discourse.

Systemic Causation & Environmentalism

  • Development of the Systemic Causation Scale, which measures direct vs. systemic causal reasoning as the basis of environmental and global warming beliefs, as well as social inequality and economic beliefs.

  • Ideology types: low systemic-causation endorsement for conservatives, high systemic-causation endorsement for liberals.

  • Increase of pro-environmental attitudes in conservatives as a result of experimentally increased systemic-causal cognition.

Gesture Pragmatics

  • Typology of gesture embodiment types.

  • Typology of Discourse Management Gestures.

  • Typology of prosodic gesture mechanisms.

  • Development of Bimodal Speech Acts Theory.

  • Metaphoric and force-dynamic reasoning at the basis of pragmatic functions of gesture.

  • Gesture as a means to dominate and manage political debate and interview.

Neural Simulation, Metaphor, & Morality

  • Simulation of core disgust during processing of metaphoric moral disgust language, & heightened activity in emotional regions for metaphoric vs. literal moral political statements.

  • Simulation of negated vs. affirmative utterances, specifically for hand-motion verbs in metaphoric vs. literal political statements.

  • Simulation of micro-level verb semantics in the brain, such as force-dynamic and directionality patterns, especially in metaphoric construals of social interaction.



Wehling, E. (2016). Politisches Framing: Wie eine Nation sich ihr Denken einredet - und daraus Politik macht. (Political framing: A cognitive scientist's guide to how a nation turns language into politics). Köln: von Halem. (Also forthcoming in English)

Lakoff, G., & Wehling, E. (2012). The little blue book: The essential guide to thinking and talking Democratic. New York: Simon and Schuster. 

Lakoff, G., & Wehling, E. (2008). Auf leisen Sohlen ins Gehirn: Politische Sprache und ihre heimliche Macht (Tiptoeing into the brain: Political language and its secret powers). Heidelberg: Carl-Auer.

Edited Issues

Wehling, E., & Sweetser, E. (2017). Gesture Pragmatics. GESTURE, 16(2), Special Issue.

Doctoral Thesis  

Wehling, E. (2013). A nation under joint custody: How conflicting family models divide US-politics. Doctoral Thesis, University of California at Berkeley. 

Peer-Reviewed Journal Papers In Work & Published 

Gamez-Djokic, V.*, Wehling, E.*, & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (Under rev.). Pushing ideas: The neural simulation of communication metaphors.     

Wehling, E.* & Feinberg, M.* (In prep.). Systemic Causation: Systemic causal reasoning at the basis of global warming beliefs and in environmental communication.

Gamez-Djokic, V., Narayana, S., Wehling, E., Sheng, T., Bergen, B., Davis, J., & Aziz-Zadeh, L. (Submitted). Morally queasy: Metaphors implying moral disgust activate specific subregions of the insula and basal ganglia. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. 

Feinberg, M.*, Wehling, E.*, Chung, J., Saslow, L., & Malvaer, I., (2019) Measuring Moral Politics: How strict and nurturant family values explain individual differences in conservatism, liberalism, and the political middle. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 6/2019. doi: 10.1037/pspp0000255.

Feinberg, M.*, Wehling, E.*. (2018). A moral house divided: How idealized family models impact political cognition. PLoS ONE 13(4): e0193347. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0193347.

Wehling, E. (2017). Discourse management gestures. Gesture, 16(2), 245–276.

Wehling, E. (2012). Preghiere per una nazione malata: Le basi morali delle metafore di Silvio Berlusconi (Prayers for a sick nation: The moral bases of conceptual metaphors in the discourse of Silvio Berlusconi). RETI, 1(2): Scienza cognitive incarnata e modelli evoluzionistici, 106-110.

Di Pietro, S.*, & Wehling, E.* (2011). La glorificazione di Silvio: Un'analisi dei frames religiosi nei discorsi pubblici di Silvio Berlusconi (The glorification of Silvio: Religious frames in Silvio Berlusconi's speech). Communicazione Politica, 3/2011, 321-342.

Wehling, E. (2010). Argument is gesture war: Function, form and prosody of discourse structuring gestures in political argument. In Proceedings of the 35th Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society (pp.54-65). Berkeley: Berkeley Linguistics Society.

Handbook & Edited Volume Chapters

Wehling, E. (2017). Political Framing. In Perrin, D., & Cotter, C. (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Language and Media. Oxon, UK: Taylor & Francis/Routledge.

Wehling, E. (2015). Moral disgust at its best: The important role of low-level mappings and structural parallelism in political disgust and disease metaphors. In Ervas, F., & Gola, E. (Eds.), Metaphors we live twice: A communicative approach beyond the conceptual view. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Wehling, E. (2010). Il nostro pensiero è quasi sempre inconscio (On implicit embodied cognition). Nuova Civiltà delle Macchine, 4/2010, 33-46.

Hahn, A.* & Wehling, E.* (2005). Die Junfräulichkeit des Gesprächs (The innocence of the interview). In Pörksen, B. (Hrsg.), Trendbuch Journalismus (Trends in journalism) (pp. 26-35). Köln: von Halem.

Wehling, E.*, & Winckel, B.* (2005). Wissen, wie Journalisten ticken (The journalist’s mind). In Pörksen, B. (Ed.), Trendbuch Journalismus (Trends in journalism) (pp. 76-84). Köln: von Halem.

Hofmann, S.*, & Wehling, E*. (2005). Der kleine Dieter (The mechanisms of boulevard journalism). In Pörksen, B. (Ed.), Trendbuch Journalismus (Trends in journalism) (pp. 126-134). Köln: von Halem.

Textbook Chapters & Dictionary Entries

Lakoff, G.*, & Wehling, E*. (2016). Appreciating undocumented Americans. In Golden, J., Shea, R. H., & Balla, L. (Eds.), Advanced Language and Literature: For Honors and Pre-AP English Courses. New York: McMillan Higher Education.

Wehling, E. (2014). Mimik, Nonverbale Kommunikation, Kinetik (Mimicry, nonverbal communication, kinetics). In Wrana, D., Ziem, A., Reisigl, M., Nonhoff, M., Angermüller, J. (Eds.), DiskursNetz: Wörterbuch der interdisziplinären Diskursforschung (Dictionary for interdisciplinary discourse analysis). Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp.

Lakoff, G.*, & Wehling, E.* (2014). Obama vs. Romney: Framing matchup. In Rosenwasser, D., & Stephen, J. (Eds.), Writing Analytically with Readings. (pp. 656-659). Independence: Cengage Learning.

Lakoff, G.*, & Wehling, E.* (2010). Im Land der zwei Freiheiten: Warum wir hören, was wir denken (In the land of two freedoms: Why we hear what we think). In Hoffmann, L. (Ed.), Sprachwissenschaft: Ein Reader (Language studies: A reader) (pp. 147-154). Berlin: De Gruyter.

Hahn, A.*,& Wehling, E.* (2009). Das journalistische Interview (Journalistic Interviewing). In Kohrs, P. (Ed.). Deutsch Profile: Ein Arbeits- und Methodenbuch für das berufliche Gymnasium (German studies textbook) (pp. 334-35). Paderborn: Schöningh. [Excerpt from: Die Junfräulichkeit des Gesprächs. In Pörksen, B. (Hrsg.), Trendbuch Journalismus.]

Political Book Chapters & Case Studies

Wehling, E. (2017). Von viel Leid und wenig Freud: Reden über Steuern (How we conceptualize taxation). In Friedel, A. (Ed.). Steuerpolitik, Reihe Aus Politik und Zeitgeschichte, Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung, 67, 23-25/2017 (pp. 4-10). Bonn: BPB.

Wehling, E., Bartlett, J., & Norries, R. (2015). Populism and It's Moral Siblings. London: Demos.

Wehling, E. (2014). Sprache, Werte, Frames: Wie findet man den richtigen Rahmen für politische Botschaften (Language, values, frames: How to find the right frame for political messages). In Denkwerk Demokratie (Ed.), Sprache, Macht, Denken: Politische Diskurse verstehen und führen (Understanding and engaging in political discourse) (pp. 159-167). Frankfurt am Main: Campus. 

Wehling, E. (2013). Denken in Worten (Thinking in words). In Eckert, G., Novy, L., & Schwickert, D. (Eds.), Zwischen Macht und Ohnmacht: Facetten erfolgreicher Politik (Aspects of successful political work) (pp. 311-319). Heidelberg: Springer VS.

Wehling, E. (2013). Die Gute Gesellschaft braucht die Gute Sprache (The Good Society needs the Good Language). In Kellermann, C., Meyer, H. (Eds.), Die Gute Gesellschaft: Soziale und demokratische Politik im 21. Jahrhundert (The good society: Social and democratic politics in the 21st century) (pp. 121-133). Berlin: Suhrkamp.

Wehling, E. (2011). Der gedankliche Abbau sozialdemokratischer Werte: Zur Sprache der Sozialpolitik in Großbritannien, Italien, Österreich und Deutschland (The cognitive dismantling of social-democratic values: The language of social policy in the UK, Italy, Austria, and Germany). International Policy Analysis. Berlin: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

Wehling, E.*, & Lakoff, G.* (2011). Die neue Sprache der Sozialdemokratie (The new language of social democracy). International Policy Analysis. Berlin: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

Wehling, E., Lakoff, G. (2011). The new language of social democracy. In Meyer, H., Rutherford, J. (Eds.), The future of European Social Democracy: Towards the Good Society (pp. 93-107). London: Palgrave McMillan.

Wehling, E. (2009). Politische Kommunikation, die ankommt: Eine neurolinguistische Analyse des EU-Wahlkampfes (Communicating politics). International Policy Analysis. Berlin: Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.