Thibodeau and Boroditsky article in PLoS One

A paper by the Stanford evaluation team members, Paul H. Thibodeau and Lera Boroditsky, entitled "Natural Language Metaphors Covertly Influence Reasoning", expanding on their previous work on metaphors for crime, has been published as an article in PLoS One (10.1371/journal.pone.0052961) and is available online.


Metaphors pervade discussions of social issues like climate change, the economy, and crime. We ask how natural language metaphors shape the way people reason about such social issues. In previous work, we showed that describing crime metaphorically as a beast or a virus, led people to generate different solutions to a city’s crime problem. In the current series of studies, instead of asking people to generate a solution on their own, we provided them with a selection of possible solutions and asked them to choose the best ones. We found that metaphors influenced people’s reasoning even when they had a set of options available to compare and select among. These findings suggest that metaphors can influence not just what solution comes to mind first, but also which solution people think is best, even when given the opportunity to explicitly compare alternatives. Further, we tested whether participants were aware of the metaphor. We found that very few participants thought the metaphor played an important part in their decision. Further, participants who had no explicit memory of the metaphor were just as much affected by the metaphor as participants who were able to remember the metaphorical frame. These findings suggest that metaphors can act covertly in reasoning. Finally, we examined the role of political affiliation on reasoning about crime. The results confirm our previous findings that Republicans are more likely to generate enforcement and punishment solutions for dealing with crime, and are less swayed by metaphor than are Democrats or Independents.