Does Metaphorical Framing Really Work?

Friday, March 04, 2011


While editors and journalists worry about whether a simple word choice could influence their readers, politicians take another tack. They use metaphors all the time, explicitly in order to persuade people to view things their way. Lera Boroditsky, a psychology professor at Stanford University, conducted an experiment to see just whether this kind of metaphorical framing really works.

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Comments [6]

monica jonen from seattle

I loved the interview! Metaphors do change people's perception and are very powerful. Having Power means it needs to be handled responsibly and hopefully as writers we can think critically about how our readers respond to our powerful perception changing metaphors.

Mar. 11 2011 02:20 PM
MDF from Austin TX

Very interesting research. But I would like more explanation regarding the following comment:

"But what we find is the metaphor was actually twice as strong as that opinion split between Republicans and Democrats. That suggests to us that the particular framing in which we're entertaining a problem really matters."

What does it mean for the metaphor to be twice as strong? How do they find the "strength" of the metaphor?

Mar. 07 2011 11:11 PM
Ron Rosenthal from California

Of course the choice of words matters.

Are the Israelis in the West Bank "settlers" or "colonists"?

Or, are they people who illegally (yes, under international law it is illegal to move your people into occupied territories) take other people's land?

Despite my name, I'm sure I'll be accused of anti-Semitism.

Mar. 07 2011 06:11 PM
Ben Hauck from NYC

Wonderful research!

Re: the failed attempts to shift labels (French fries --> freedom fries) ...

... I think the implication was not that the words "French" and "freedom" were synonyms, but instead, they were *antonyms*, both sharing "fre" as the start of the terms (which implied the choice of the word "freedom" over, say, "liberty").

Of course, "French" and "freedom" are not true antonyms, but the shift in word choice at the time was to signal a distinction between the position represented by the U.S. and its allies (generically, perhaps offensively, thought of as "freedom"), and the position represented by France, which was contrary to the position of the U.S. and its allies.

Since "freedom" was an antonym rather than a synonym, you wouldn't call France "The Land of Freedom"; you would call it "The Land without Freedom" or something like that. The "substitution" was aimed at discriminating France from the U.S. and its allies, and also distancing France--not equating "France" and "freedom" as a synonym might do.

A minor point on exciting research. Sounded very korzybskian.


Mar. 07 2011 11:14 AM
russell bell from Albuquerque

France *is* the country of free people! Frank means free (the
privilege of congress-persons to send mail free by signing instead is
called franking); a franklin is a free man. They called themselves 'Franks' back in the days of Charlemagne to identify themselves as free people. The German word for France is Frankreich: the kingdom of the free.

Mar. 06 2011 05:07 PM
Alan wild from South Kingstown, RI

Interesting research... but it can't be of surprise to editors of the New York Times, et al. There is a definite media bias against 2nd Amendment rights. It's obvious in how the reporters color reports of criminal use of firearms, and the buzz words they use, like “gunman”, and “assault rifle”… and it needs to be repeatedly brought up that "semi-automatic" is an adjective, not a noun.

Now from Boroditsky's research, there’s no denying the media bias through their use of metaphorical framing.

'Regards, Alan

Mar. 06 2011 04:35 PM

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