Publication details [#506]

Thibodeau, Paul H. and Lera Boroditsky. 2013. Natural Language Metaphors Covertly Influence Reasoning. PLOS ONE 8 (1) : 1–7. 7 pp.
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Since metaphors permeate discourse in social matters, including climate change, the economy and crime, the authors of the article inquired into the role of natural-language metaphors in shaping people’s reasoning about such issues. The authors’ earlier studies showed that metaphoric descriptions of crime as a beast or a virus induced people to provide divergent solutions to the problem of urban crime. The present series of studies takes a different approach, by presenting respondents with a selection of potential solutions, and asking them to select the one they believe is best. The studies revealed that in their reasoning, people are influenced by metaphor even when they have a group of options to evaluate and choose from. These results imply that metaphors not only affect what solutions are thought of first, but also shape people’s value judgments regarding the best solution, even when explicitly comparing alternatives. In addition, the subjects were tested on their awareness of the metaphors underlying the proposed solutions. It was found that a very small number of subjects felt metaphor played a major role in their decision-making process. Moreover, even those subjects who did not clearly recall the underlying metaphors were affected by the metaphor similarly to the subjects whose recollection of the metaphoric frame was clear. The conclusion from this finding is that that metaphors may operate below the threshold of awareness in people’s reasoning. As a final point, the authors also examined the role of political biases on reasoning about the issue of crime. Along the lines of earlier findings, Republicans were found to be more prone to provide solutions rooted in enforcement and punishment, showing less sway due to metaphor, in comparison to Democrats or Independents.