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ScienceShot: Tough on Crime? Depends on the Metaphor

Just one word could change how you think about crime, according to a study published today in the journal PLoS ONE. Interested in how—and whether—we use metaphors to solve real-world problems, psychologists asked 253 people how they would deal with illegal activity in Addison, a fictional city where crime was rising at an alarming rate. Before proposing solutions, the participants read that crime was either a "beast" or a "virus" that was ravaging the city. That small change in metaphor made a big difference. Seventy-one percent of those who read about crime as a beast suggested tough strategies such as calling in the National Guard, while those who read about crime as a virus were split: 54% favored tough approaches while 46% favored "treatments" such as improving the economy. The effect of metaphor was about twice that of political ideology: Republicans were only 8% more likely than Democrats to propose tough solutions—something you might savor next time a politician feeds you a line.

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