Nav: Home

Metaphoring the police: It's all about the right choice of word

December 08, 2016

A well-chosen metaphor does wonders to explain concepts, to persuade and to ensure buy-in into any given matter. So says Paul Thibodeau of Oberlin College in the US, lead author of an article in Springer's journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review on the use of metaphors as a form of explanation. Thibodeau and his colleagues took note of how readers responded to the use of the more protective concept of "guardian" rather than the more militant word "warrior" to describe the police in President Barack Obama's 2015 task force report. It used these contrasting metaphors to emphasize how modern-day law enforcement officials should go about building trust and ensuring greater legitimacy.

Metaphors are part of everyday language. They help people think about complex, abstract, or novel ideas in terms of more familiar and often simpler concepts that people already understand. Yet relatively little experimental research has been done to examine whether and how metaphors are used and understood in everyday conversation. Thibodeau's team therefore devised three experiments using the task force report as a basis.

In one, participants were asked about the association that first comes to mind on seeing the words "guardian" and "warrior." Their associations were found to differ depending on whether they had previously answered questions about law enforcement. Both words elicited positive associations in a neutral context; "warrior" took on a more negative meaning for participants who had just been asked questions about law enforcement. As a result, it showed that a word's meaning depends on the context in which it is used.

In this study, participants were also asked which of the two metaphors they thought described police officers more accurately. Interestingly, the participants were almost evenly split in this judgment, which went hand in hand with their beliefs about policing and the criminal justice system. Participants who saw the police as "guardians" for instance felt the justice system was more fair and effective than those who considered them to be "warriors."

The second and third studies investigated how metaphors facilitate explanation. The researchers found that when the police were metaphorically described as "guardians," people expressed a more positive view of law enforcement and the criminal justice system than when the police were metaphorically described as "warriors." When the experiment was designed so that people saw these same words--guardian and warrior--but not as metaphors for police, the words did not influence participants' attitudes toward law enforcement. This suggests that a metaphor has to appear in the context of the subject being explained to exert a causal influence on those receiving the message.

Thibodeau says that the choice of the "guardian" metaphor in the Obama task force's report worked well because it changed participants' regard for the nature and role of law enforcement.

"Recent violent clashes between law enforcement and civilians have generated a national conversation about the role of police officers in our communities. Our research suggests that we need to pay careful attention to the metaphors we use to support our explanations," Thibodeau adds.

"Metaphors can efficiently encapsulate and communicate an array of structured attitudes and beliefs, and can guide people to think about a target domain in new ways," says Thibodeau.
-end-
Reference: Thibodeau, P. H. et al. (2016). The Metaphor Police: A Case Study of the Role of Metaphor in Explanation, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review. DOI 10.3758/s13423-016-1192-5

Springer

Related Law Enforcement Articles:

What will happen to European criminal law after Brexit?
Britain will not be able to select which sections of the European Union criminal law system it abides by, as was previously the case.
Paper: 'No admit-No deny' settlements undercut accountability in civil enforcement
The failure of federal watchdog agencies to require admissions of guilt from the targets of civil enforcement can trigger calls for greater accountability from the public, says a new paper from U. of I. law professors Verity Winship and Jennifer K.
Study examines emergency department visits for patients injured by law enforcement in the US
From 2006 to 2012, there were approximately 51,000 emergency department visits per year for patients injured by law enforcement in the United States, with this number stable over this time period, according to a study published by JAMA Surgery.
Scholar to talk about role of science in law
Northwestern Pritzker School of Law's Shari Diamond, one of the foremost empirical researchers on jury process and legal decision-making, will address the importance of involving scientists in the legal system at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Boston.
How often do quantum systems violate the second law of thermodynamics?
The likelihood of seeing quantum systems violating the second law of thermodynamics has been calculated by UCL scientists.
A new law to accurately measure charged macromolecules
Measuring the size and diffusion properties of large molecules using dynamic light-scattering techniques and the Stokes-Einstein formula has been mostly straightforward for decades, but it doesn't work when they carry an electric charge.
New data from national violent death reporting system shed light on law enforcement officer deaths, their use of lethal force
Violence-related deaths, including homicides and suicides, are an urgent public health problem, according to Alex E.
Policing biases -- A critical issue facing law enforcement today
The number one issue facing policing today is the allegation that officers act on stereotypes and biases.
Tighter enforcement along the US-Mexico border backfired, researchers find
The rapid escalation of border enforcement over the past three decades has backfired as a strategy to control undocumented immigration between Mexico and the United States, according to new research that suggests further militarization of the border is a waste of money.
Changes in state policies impact fatal and non-fatal assaults of law enforcement officers
State-level policy changes can impact the number of fatal and non-fatal assaults, including shootings, of law enforcement officers, a new study finds.

Related Law Enforcement Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Jumpstarting Creativity
Our greatest breakthroughs and triumphs have one thing in common: creativity. But how do you ignite it? And how do you rekindle it? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on jumpstarting creativity. Guests include economist Tim Harford, producer Helen Marriage, artificial intelligence researcher Steve Engels, and behavioral scientist Marily Oppezzo.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#524 The Human Network
What does a network of humans look like and how does it work? How does information spread? How do decisions and opinions spread? What gets distorted as it moves through the network and why? This week we dig into the ins and outs of human networks with Matthew Jackson, Professor of Economics at Stanford University and author of the book "The Human Network: How Your Social Position Determines Your Power, Beliefs, and Behaviours".