Monday, February 28, 2011

Powers of Persuasion—Marketing by Metaphor

Lera Boroditsky, an assistant professor of psychology at Stanford, says:

We can’t talk about any complex situation—like crime—without using metaphors. Metaphors aren’t just used for flowery speech. They shape the conversation for things we’re trying to explain and figure out. And they have consequences for determining what we decide is the right approach to solving problems.

Test subjects were asked to read short paragraphs about crime rates in the fictional city of Addison, including some startling figures about how much crime had risen, and then were asked to answer questions about the city. The researchers wanted to know how people answered when crime was described as a beast compared with when it was described as a virus. The subjects’ response depended on the metaphor used. 71 percent of participants called for more enforcement when they read:

Crime is a beast ravaging the city of Addison.

But only 54 percent wanted more enforcement when they read:

Crime is a virus ravaging the city of Addison.

Asked to say what part of the report had influenced them most in their decision, only 15 of 485 participants said the metaphor. Most of the rest else said it was the figures. Boroditsky said:

People want to believe they’re logical. They like to think they’re objective and making decisions based on numbers, but really they’re being swayed by metaphors.

As expected Republican participants were 10 percent more likely to suggest enforcement, but reading that crime was a beast swayed 20 percent more to suggest enforcement than reading that crime was a virus, whatever their political persuasion.

It explains why right wing politicians and their supporters like to be so doom laden and aggressive. When we are faced with Godless commies who eat babies, the poor dupes called the public are more ready to send their sons to fight foreign wars, and cut the unemployment roll. When we are faced with evil Moslem terrorists who want to destroy our civilization, we are again ready to send half educated country boys and black urban youths in uniform to fight for western freedom and Christianity.

These powers of persuasion are very well known in our capitalist society which uses them daily to mould our tastes, and influence the brands we prefer, and the places we go. It’s called marketing. Vance Packard wrote The Hidden Persuaders warning us against it half a century ago. By now, Joe and Jane Public ought to know all about it so that they are not so easily duped, but that is not what our leaders want. We are meant to be easily duped. The ruling caste would rather dupe us into fighting each other than fighting them, the real enemy!

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