Academic journal article Communication Studies

Metaphor and Intra-Attitudinal Structural Coherence

Academic journal article Communication Studies

Metaphor and Intra-Attitudinal Structural Coherence

Article excerpt

Metaphor has a long history of study as a rhetorical tool. Derived from the Greek words, "meta" meaning "over" and "pherein" meaning "to carry," a metaphor is traditionally considered a linguistic expression of the form "A is B" consisting of two parts A and B, such that the comparison results in aspects that normally apply to B being transferred or "carried over" to A. For example, the metaphoric expression "Your bicycle helmet is your security blanket for the road" consists of two parts bicycle helmet (A) and security blanket (B), such that there is a comparison between A and B and properties associated with security blanket are transferred to bicycle helmet. The two terms A and B are seen as representing different concepts or conceptual domains and referred to respectively as target and base (Gentner, 1982).

Use of novel metaphors for persuasion has been studied in diverse discourse areas such as politics (Read, Cesa, Jones, & Collins, 1990), advertising (Hitchon, 1991; Nelson & Hitchon, 1999), and social issues (Whaley, 1991). However, the results of the empirical investigations have been mixed. Some studies (e.g., Bowers & Osborn, 1966; Hitchon, 1991) have found that use of metaphors in a message leads to more attitude change in the desired direction whereas other studies (Whaley, 1991, Study 2) have found the opposite. An answer to the question of whether metaphors really are more effective language devices than literal equivalents was provided by a meta-analysis of empirical investigations of metaphor and persuasion (Sopory & Dillard, 2002a). The results showed that metaphor-using messages did lead to a small yet significant increase in attitude change over literal messages (effect size r = .06).

The meta-analysis also tested different explanations of metaphor's persuasive advantage over literal language. The results, in combination with evidence from other relevant research (see Sopory & Dillard, 2002b), provided support for the superior organization view (Read et al., 1990). According to this view, metaphor is more effective in organizing the arguments of a persuasive message compared to literal language. A metaphor induces a greater number of semantic associations, such that the different arguments in a persuasive message get connected together more effectively as a coherent whole. This coherent organization promotes attitude change in the desired direction. On the other hand, a literal message lacks this ability and so is not as persuasive. The present study further develops this line of thinking and investigates a possible mechanism underlying the coherence.

A Structural Explanation of Metaphor's Persuasive Effects

The account developed here proposes that a novel persuasive metaphor leads to enhanced coherence of the three types of information mobilized for attitude judgments. The coherent information available postcomprehension of a metaphor-based message (as compared to literal-language-only message) exhibits greater intra-attitudinal structural coherence that makes it more likely that receivers show enhanced attitude change in the desired direction. (1) Using the conceptual metaphor theory of metaphor comprehension (Johnson, 1987; Lakoff, 1987; Lakoff & Johnson, 1980), the claim is that the more coherent information results because the structure inherent in conceptual metaphors provides a priori constraint on comprehension of the correspondences between the A and B terms of a linguistic metaphor. That is, it is the emergent structural match between the linguistic and the conceptual metaphor that produces a highly coherent set of information. This view is elaborated below to generate four hypotheses.

Intra-Attitudinal Structural Coherence

Attitudes embody evaluations of attitude objects, which can be based on three sources of information: (a) cognitions (i.e., beliefs), (b) affect, and (c) physical/ motor behavior (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993; Zanna & Rempel, 1988). …

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