Tag Archives: metaphor

Dominant characters on the left

From Psyblog:

Research finds that people or objects moving from left to right are perceived as having greater power (Maass et al., 2007):

  • Soccer goals are rated as stronger, faster, even more beautiful when the movement of the scorer is from left to right, rather than right to left.
  • Film violence seems more aggressive, more painful and more shocking when the punch is delivered from left to right, compared with right to left.
  • Cars in an advert are rated as stronger and faster when they are moving from left to right, rather than right to left (take note advertising executives!).

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that athletes, cars and horses are all usually shown on TV reaching the finishing line from left to right.

According to other studies mentioned by Maass et al, in Western societies most people also tend to preferentially imagine events evolving from left to right, picture the situations in subject-verb-object sentences with the subject on the left of the object, look at new places rather than old ones more when stimuli show up in a left to right order, memorize the final positions of objects further along the implied path more when they are moving left to right, imagine number lines and time increasing from left to right, and scan their eyes over art in a left to right trajectory.

Why is this?

It seems likely that this left to right bias has its roots in language… people who speak languages written from right to left like Arabic or Urdu … display the same bias, but in the opposite direction.

So Maass and the others guessed that characters perceived as more active would also tend to be depicted on the left of more passive characters in pictures. Their research agreed:

We propose that spatial imagery is systematically linked to stereotypic beliefs, such that more agentic groups are envisaged to the left of less agentic groups. This spatial agency bias was tested in three studies. In Study 1, a content analysis of over 200 images of male–female pairs (including artwork, photographs, and cartoons) showed that males were over-proportionally presented to the left of females, but only for couples in which the male was perceived as more agentic. Study 2 (N = 40) showed that people tend to draw males to the left of females, but only if they hold stereotypic beliefs that associate males with greater agency. Study 3 (N = 61) investigated whether scanning habits due to writing direction are responsible for the spatial agency bias. We found a tendency for Italian-speakers to position agentic groups (men and young people) to the left of less agentic groups (females and old people), but a reversal in Arabic-speakers who tended to position the more agentic groups to the right. Together, our results suggest a subtle spatial bias in the representation of social groups that seems to be linked to culturally determined writing/reading habits.

Adam appeared on the left in 62% of paintings considered, far less than Gomez Addams is portrayed on the left of Mortissa (82%). (Picture: Peter Paul Rubens)

Adam appeared on the left in 62% of paintings considered, far less than Gomez Addams is portrayed on the left of Mortissa (82%). (Picture: Peter Paul Rubens)

Note that the first study only looked at four couples; Adam and Eve, Gomez and Mortissa Addams, Fred and Wilma Flinstone, and Marge and Homer Simpson. The last three were compared to surveyed opinions on the couple’s relative activeness, dominance and communion, and the Flinstone and Simpson couples were found to be about equal. An earlier study also found that Gabriel was portrayed to the left of Mary 97% of the time.

Most languages also mention the (active) subject before the object, which means the active entity is on the left when written in a left-to-right language. Grammar predates writing, so if this ordering of nouns is relevant, as the researchers suggest, it seems it combines with the direction of writing to cause the left to right bias. It would be interesting to see whether natives to the few languages who put the object before the subject have this bias  in the other direction. It would also be interesting to see whether the layout of sentences more commonly influences our perceptions of the content, or whether the effect is so weak as to only have influence over years of parsing the same patterns.

The puzzle continues

A puzzle from ages ago:

What do these things have in common? Nerves, emotions, morality, prices.

Continue reading

A puzzle

What do these things have in common? Nerves, emotions, morality, prices.

Corporate ecology

Direct competition is resource intensive. Just to compete, species and companies have to invest heaps of energy in long trunks and roots, extra hunting and massive advertising campaigns for instance, instead of expanding or improving production. To avoid these costs they move into niches. Where there are multiple species or companies with very similar habits, one will eventually get an advantage somewhere and use it to get further ahead and outcompete the others. Consequently those that survive employ slightly different tactics and are spread between different habitats and markets. The fast food diverged from the fancy restaurants way back and nestled into more isolated markets. The fast food members have since emphasised their differences through differentiation of colourful plastic toys, varieties of hamburger and corporate identity, to appeal to different prey.

Companies can even evolve according to the prey’s preferences, their appendages growing beautiful but functionless layers of plastic and coloured cardboard, along with scents precisely attuned to attract passing shoppers.

All right, the mechanisms are half different (companies at least try to steer their behaviour, though I reckon natural selection comes in there to a great extent too). And the structure of the larger system is perhaps different (unless people are the decomposers, the production chain the trophic levels…yeah, whatev).

Markets are a kind of electrochemical cell

There are two processes taking place: adding and using up value from units. When everything is mixed together and these processes are happening in one place, they happen slowly (think of subsistence production by consumers). Separate them to their own containers and they happen faster (think production in factories and consumption in homes). The containers must be joined by a channel for units to move according to their value, and a wire for charges to balance that. The same value is removed from particles in one container as added to others in the other.

The extra energy pushing the charges and value laden particles between the containers can be used to run things like light bulbs and welfare systems. Alternatively it can be used to run a small heat to warm up the reaction, or an advertising industry.

While the charges can move around indefinitely, the particles eventually run out. Then it’s all over. With any luck/sensible policy the metaphor doesn’t continue this far.