A study published in January in PLOS ONE examined how reading different metaphors—“crime is a virus” and “crime is a beast”—affected participants' reasoning when choosing solutions to a city's crime problem. Those who read the beast metaphor were more likely to opt for a direct approach emphasizing enforcement, whereas the virus metaphor elicited a preference for a systemic, reform-focused solution.
“What a different result one gets by changing the metaphor!”A comment from "sunnystrobe" beneath the linked article offers a chilling example of influence of a metaphor in action:
― George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss (1860)
“The metaphor is probably the most fertile power possessed by man”
― José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955)
....Fifty years ago, at Munich University, we studied Prof. Wolfgang Clemen's (then) ground-breaking book : 'Shakespeare's Imagery', which was an eye opener as to HOW the power of configurative visualization works, creating in our brains something which could be aptly named our own in-brain 'home art / movie', good or bad...
(for evil abuse of this fanciful human trait, think how the Nazi propaganda machine of fear & terror was able to turn a nation into tolerating 'Kristallnacht' - and worse to come- just by using visual metaphors of vermin- that would hAVE to be exterminated for the greater benefit & survival of the German race.).....
The article goes on to say that scientists aren't clear exactly how the brain processes metaphor, but suspect that it triggers related concepts when processing a metaphor's meaning. That's not such a world shattering conclusion though, is it? Wouldn't we lay-persons, if we had stopped to think about it, have concluded the same? That's the purpose of a metaphor, surely, to encourage readers or listeners, or viewers to understand a difficult concept by relating it to something already understood.
The main point of the article is good though: choice of metaphor, especially when explaining issues of great importance, can be crucial. Ordinary mortals like us tend to use metaphor to make our conversations or scribbles more colourful or more relatable; there's little danger we'd cause any kind of havoc to break out. What we should train ourselves to recognise is how, and when politicians, salesmen, corporate-beholden journalists, and the "Powers That Be" employ metaphor, and note carefully which metaphor they choose to use.