N E W S • F R A M E S • • • • •

How the news is framed & how it affects your brain

The Metaphor is the Message

A large part of our thinking is metaphorical, even at a basic level. For example, we generally think of “more” as “up”. We say, “the price has gone up”. This is a simple orientational metaphor, which is grounded in our experience of observing things rise as they increase (eg water in a container). But we also think of happiness as up, and sadness as down. Undecided is “up in the air”; decided is down, “settled”. We think of importance as up, eg “higher up in the firm”, and we “look down” on those we disapprove of. But there’s no necessary real-world connection between an upwards orientation and “happiness”, “undecided”, “important”, etc. The connection is metaphoric, but also synaptic – and mostly unconscious.

The cognitive scientist, George Lakoff, has catalogued in detail how certain metaphorical frames are repeated in politics to influence our opinions. His most commonly cited example is the phrase “tax relief” (which was repeated over and over by the George W Bush administration):

“When the word tax is added to relief, the result is a metaphor: Taxation is an affliction. And the person who takes it away is a hero, and anyone who tries to stop him is a bad guy. This is a frame. It is made up of ideas, like affliction and hero.” [Lakoff, Don't think of an elephant, p4]

Political frames (including corporate propaganda) are communicated by the seemingly everyday language of newspaper headlines and editorial copy. Metaphors activate (in our brains) the frames to which they belong, and this mostly occurs without us noticing. One of the aims of this website is to throw some light on this process.

♦ Read my longer intro to metaphor/frames, ‘Essentials of Framing’, here.
♦ See also my short pieces, Media metaphor & bias and “Flatlined” economy (on a recent economics metaphor).

Recommended reading:
The Metaphorical Structure of the Human Conceptual System (Lakoff and Johnson)
Metaphors We Live By (Lakoff and Johnson)

Written by NewsFrames

August 19, 2011 at 7:43 am


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