How much do pictures matter?

George Lakoff has argued that metaphors underlie much of our thought and reasoning:

The science is clear. Metaphorical thought is normal. That should be widely recognized. Every time you think of paying moral debts, or getting bogged down on a project, or losing time, or being at a crossroads in a relationship, you are unconsciously activating a conceptual metaphor circuit in your brain, reasoning using it, and quite possibly making decisions and living your life on the basis of your metaphors. And that’s just normal. There’s no way around it! Metaphorical reason serves us well in everyday life. But it can do harm if you are unaware of it.

A different bike path by Moominmolly

Images also seem to play a big part in most people’s thought.For instance when I think ‘I should go home soon before it gets dark’ there are associated images of my hallway and a curve of the bike path in evening light. I wonder how much the choice of such images influences our behaviour. If the image was of my sofa instead of my hallway, would I be more motivated? If the word ‘dog’ brings to mind an image of a towering beast I saw once, am I less likely to consider purchasing a dog of any kind than if it brings to mind something rabbit sized? If ‘minimum wage’ brings to mind a black triangle of dead weight loss, am I less likely to support a minimum wage than if it brings to mind an image of better paid workers (assuming my understanding of economics and society are the same)? This seems like something people must have studied, but I can’t easily find it.

It seems likely to me that such images would make some difference. If it is so, perhaps I should not let the important ones be chosen so arbitrarily (as far as my conscious mind is concerned).

5 responses to “How much do pictures matter?

  1. There are visual connotations that some people share (such as seeing dark, creepy crawly things as generally bad and being off-put by the dark) but people have their own personal connotations based on formative experiences and an accretion of past contexts and their “sequelae.” Since we get a fair amount of our information about the world through our eyes, it’s not unreasonable to assume that visualization/imagining would be our most “realistic-feeling” way to try to predict the future. Our emotions about the possible future could be the way that we plan (since we often decide things before the ‘pro and con’ sections of our brain kick in) and connect our emotions with action. We’d also be using the same tools that we use for empathizing with others for anticipating our future selves’ happiness..
    If we build our connotations from past experiences or things that we’ve heard (even if they’re exaggerated — like stories about people getting mugged in dark alleyways,) that might not be so bad, since we can be overconfident, taking risks that we often shouldn’t, because we feel that we — unlike everyone else — have the ability to deal with them, in addition to a superior knowledge of whatever the subject is. People usually know when they have a phobia and they’re being irrational, so maybe if it’s something you aren’t conscious of, it evens out. Though if you foresee pain, you might actually feel that something’s painful when you otherwise might not.

    Searching ‘cognitive expectations imagery’ brought up a few things on this, but they are generally pretty specific and focused on pathological cases The cognitive control of emotion seemed decent.
    Imagery rehearsal seems to be at least somewhat related to what you’re talking about and there is apparently a link between the tendency to dissociate and to rely on mental images.

    I just realized that this was incredibly long for me and possibly (ok probably) I’ve said nothing new, but I’m pretty interested in this subject…

  2. DARPA is soliciting metaphors from researchers.

    The Metaphor Program will exploit the fact that metaphors are pervasive in everyday talk and reveal the underlying beliefs and worldviews of members of a culture. In the first phase of the two-phase program, performers will develop automated tools and techniques for recognizing, defining and categorizing linguistic metaphors associated with target concepts and found in large amounts of native-language text.

  3. Images, metaphors, models, narratives, everyone is talking about the same vague idea but at different complexity levels. read this essay before?

    Against Grand Narratives

    When Lakoff talks about “more is up” metaphor the explanation is plausible. When he talks about the differences between conservatives and progressives the word narrative as used by Shadia Drury kind of fits better. When Lakoffs talks about immoral acts and washings hands once again metaphor seems a more appropiate definition.

    ps. please mind the not so subtle hate Shadia Drury expresses for organized religions, her idea is greater than that little defect.

  4. Pingback: » How important is metaphor to thought?

  5. Wonks Anonymous

    There used to be a good cog-sci site on ScienceBlogs called Mixing Memory (hasn’t been updated since 2008). The author had a series on Lakoff and metaphors.


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.