Psychology Assistant Professor Lera Boroditsky and doctoral candidate Paul Thibodeau have shown that people will likely support an increase in police forces and jailing of offenders if crime is described as a “beast” preying on a community. But if people are told crime is a “virus” infecting a city, they are more inclined to treat the problem with social reform.
In five experiments, test subjects were asked to read short paragraphs about rising crime rates in the fictional city of Addison and answer questions about the city. The researchers gauged how people answered these questions in light of how crime was described – as a beast or a virus.
They found the test subjects’ proposed solutions differed a great deal depending on the metaphor they were exposed to.
“People like to think they’re objective and making decisions based on numbers,” Boroditsky said. “They want to believe they’re logical. But they’re really being swayed by metaphors.”
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