In popular scientific reports in printed media presenting results of medical research we can often find metaphors. Metaphors used by scientists in a rather abstract way are taken up by journalists and are elaborated into vivid scenarios. They apparently seem to enable a common imagination of scientist and journalist and should guarantee an adequate description to the lay public. Since metaphors link abstract insights to concrete experiences they might help scientific results to become more easily comprehensible. They also have emotional implications: Especially war metaphors -that are often connected with immunological topics- are supposed to create an emotional reaction which may have positive effects on the reader’s interest.
     

Scientific journalists seem to use these postulated multidimensional qualities of metaphors rather intuitively.                                                                                                                                                                 

Aim of the study was to find out if these qualities are empirically proved true. A report about immunological advances of AIDS research was basis of the experiment. It contained a scenario of war metaphors and was modified three times with regard to density of metaphors and text comprehensibility. The four versions were red by 153 medical lay persons, which were asked 1. to write down their version as complete as possible, 2. to answer questions about the text and 3. to rate its comprehensibility, emotionality and interestingness. Their habitual media consumption was also assessed.
     

The complex results show that the intuitive view of the impact of metaphors requires differentiation:
     

People with low media consumption profited much from high density of metaphors while those with high media consumption showed lower comprehension of text. Text versions with metaphors were rated significantly more emotional than those without but emotionality was mostly judged negative. To the readers’ interest metaphors contributed little whereas comprehensibility had a significant effect.
     

So on the immediate process of reception a general influence of metaphors can not be stated. But in the long run through repetition metaphors seem to be associated with a topic and to shape an image within the readers: It is remarkable that almost all persons whose version did not contain any war metaphors did use war metaphors in their repetition.
 

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

The impact of war metaphors on the reception of popular scientific texts

Andrea Kolz   Universitaet Heidelberg

Ursula Christmann  

In popular scientific reports in printed media presenting results of medical research we can often find metaphors. Metaphors used by scientists in a rather abstract way are taken up by journalists and are elaborated into vivid scenarios. They apparently seem to enable a common imagination of scientist and journalist and should guarantee an adequate description to the lay public. Since metaphors link abstract insights to concrete experiences they might help scientific results to become more easily comprehensible. They also have emotional implications: Especially war metaphors -that are often connected with immunological topics- are supposed to create an emotional reaction which may have positive effects on the reader’s interest.
     

Scientific journalists seem to use these postulated multidimensional qualities of metaphors rather intuitively.                                                                                                                                                                 

Aim of the study was to find out if these qualities are empirically proved true. A report about immunological advances of AIDS research was basis of the experiment. It contained a scenario of war metaphors and was modified three times with regard to density of metaphors and text comprehensibility. The four versions were red by 153 medical lay persons, which were asked 1. to write down their version as complete as possible, 2. to answer questions about the text and 3. to rate its comprehensibility, emotionality and interestingness. Their habitual media consumption was also assessed.
     

The complex results show that the intuitive view of the impact of metaphors requires differentiation:
     

People with low media consumption profited much from high density of metaphors while those with high media consumption showed lower comprehension of text. Text versions with metaphors were rated significantly more emotional than those without but emotionality was mostly judged negative. To the readers’ interest metaphors contributed little whereas comprehensibility had a significant effect.
     

So on the immediate process of reception a general influence of metaphors can not be stated. But in the long run through repetition metaphors seem to be associated with a topic and to shape an image within the readers: It is remarkable that almost all persons whose version did not contain any war metaphors did use war metaphors in their repetition.
 

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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