We have all felt beaten down at one point or another while preparing for trial. We’ve been lost in the woods and unable to keep our heads up as we slowly sank into a seemingly inescapable abyss. Then suddenly, an idea landed out of nowhere. We grasped it and utilized the concept to climb out of the desperate circumstances. After a little sweat and tears, we freed ourselves from old themes and ran to victory with a new strategy.
Okay, so going too metaphorical may be overkill. However, it is undeniable that the paragraph above relayed a palpable scene of being physically stuck and then escaping through pulling. What if I had described being lost in the dark (instead of the woods)? Would grasping a concept seem less helpful than discovering a bright idea or seeing the light?
A recent study out of Stanford University has demonstrated that metaphors may be even more powerful than we previously thought. More than simply conveying a concept, they may also subtly direct us on how to process and react to the information.
In this research, participants were given one of two versions of a media report on crime to read and then offer suggestions. The only difference was that one report described the crime as “a virus ravaging the city”, while others suggested crime was a “beast ravaging the city”. They then asked the participants to give recommendations for a solution.
Interestingly, those who read the “beast” metaphor were more likely to suggest utilizing increased police enforcement than those who read the “virus” version. Instead, the “virus” readers showed a greater propensity towards discovering the root issue of the problem and curing it.
All it took was a single word change and the result was a significant shift in problem solving style. Imagine if this was a case in front of a jury, arbitrator or judge. Could word choice have the same type of impact on the trier of fact?
This research demonstrates that beyond making a case more palatable or comprehensible, one can actually influence the manner of problem solving a jury might utilize. Ever reminding us that a good metaphor is like a key to the unconscious mind. (Damn, I think that was a simile.)
Blogger: Matt McCusker