The effects of policy metaphors on political attitudes

by Hartman, Todd Kristian, Ph.D., STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK AT STONY BROOK, 2009, 191 pages; 3393648


Scholars dating back to Aristotle have argued that metaphors are persuasive in politics; yet, little empirical research exists to validate these assertions. In this dissertation, I explore how elites use metaphors to communicate information to citizens, and what impact these messages have on their understanding and evaluation of political issues. I investigate how metaphors work, which ones are being used in real policy debates, and how they influence people's perceptions of message quality and judgments about political issues. To this end, I conduct several experiments, as well as a content analysis, to test and explore metaphor-induced persuasion. Ultimately, this dissertation is about how individuals make sense of politics, and how elites can use what we know about human cognition to convey their policies to the mass public.

First, I lay out a theory of policy metaphors and propose a number of hypotheses derived from the literature in psychology and political science (Chapter 2). Second, I discuss the results from a content analysis of actual policy speeches to identify how party leaders communicate with members of the American public (Chapter 3). Third, I present the results from three experimental studies designed to flesh out the persuasive effects of metaphors, as well as test potential mediators and moderators of metaphor-induced attitude change (Chapter 4). Fourth, I introduce a novel experiment to examine the automatic, spontaneous evaluative implications of policy metaphors (Chapter 5) and then explore whether policy metaphors create semantic associations in memory (Chapter 6). Finally, I discuss the results and propose ideas for future research on policy metaphors and persuasion (Chapter 7).

AdvisrHoward Lavine
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsSocial psychology; Political Science
Publication Number3393648

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