The metaphor police: A case study of the role of metaphor in explanation
While many scholars have pointed to the role of metaphor in explanation, relatively little experimental research has examined whether and how metaphors are used and understood in everyday explanatory discourse. Across 3 experiments, we investigated the nature and function of metaphor in explanation by drawing on a real-world example where the terms guardian and warrior were used to metaphorically explain the role of police officers. We found, first, that the associations participants brought to mind for these concepts differed depending on whether they had previously answered questions about law enforcement (e.g., associations for warrior emphasized aggression and violence rather than strength and bravery when participants had previously answered questions about policing). Second, people were almost evenly split in their judgment of which metaphor was more appropriate to explain the role of law enforcement; this preference was highly predictive of beliefs related to policing and the criminal justice system. Third, and most important, using these metaphors to explain the job of policing causally influenced attitudes toward law enforcement in a metaphor-congruent manner (i.e., exposure to the guardian metaphor led to more positive attitudes), a finding that could not be accounted for by basic lexical priming. These studies complement existing work that has identified metaphor as a mechanism for representing abstract concepts, but also highlight the communicative and explanatory, rather than representational, functions of metaphor by showing that metaphors can encapsulate and convey an array of structured attitudes and beliefs.
Thibodeau, Paul H., Latoya Crow, and Stephen J. Flusberg. 2017. "The Metaphor Police: A Case Study of the Role of Metaphor in Explanation." Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 24(5): 1375-1386.
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review
Metaphor, Explanation, Analogy, Persuasion, Reasoning, Concepts