The Mind is an Ecosystem: Systematic Metaphors Promote Systems Thinking
Is income inequality more of a blemish or a failing organ in our economy? Both metaphors capture something about wealth disparities, but only failing organ seems to emphasize the fact that our economy is a complex system, where activity in one region may lead to a cascade of problems in other parts of the system. In the present study, we introduce a novel method for classifying such ‘systemic’ metaphors, which reveals that people can reliably identify the extent to which a metaphor highlights the complex causal structure of a target domain. In a second experiment, we asked whether exposing people to more systemic metaphors would induce a systems-thinking mindset and influence reasoning on a seemingly unrelated task that measured the degree to which people reasoned about a domain in terms of complex causal relations. We found that participants who were primed with systemic metaphors scored higher on subsequent tasks that measured relational and holistic thinking, supporting the view that these metaphors can promote systems thinking. Our discussion highlights the potential role of systemic metaphors in facilitating reasoning and decision-making in complex domains.
Thibodeau, Paul H., Anna Winneg, Cindy Frantz and Stephen J. Flusberg. 2016. “The mind is an ecosystem: Systemic metaphors promote systems thinking.” Metaphor & The Social World 6(2): 225-242.
John Benjamins Publishing
Metaphor and the Social World