New York: Perceptions about inventions and inventors are shaped by how they are described, shows a new study.
The study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science suggested that use of one metaphor over the other would shape how people viewed the value of a scientific achievement.
To explore the relationship between an idea’s characterisation and its perceived value, the researchers conducted experiments on 345 adults, average age 35, with more than half female participants.
The study examined how people reacted to a description of Alan Turing’s invention of a precursor to the modern computer.
One group’s passage included wording that his idea ‘struck him like a light bulb that had suddenly turned on’. Another group said Turing had ‘the seed of an idea that took root like a growing seed that had finally borne fruit’. The third group’s passage included no metaphor.
The researchers found that the second group’s metaphor diminished participants’ belief that Turing’s idea was exceptional.
The second study which measured beliefs about gender and idea creation and perception of an inventor’s genius sought to examine whether these metaphor effects could extend beyond judgments about ideas themselves to affect social judgements regarding who can have innovative ideas.
In both cases, participants were more likely to view women’s abilities more favourably the seed metaphor than the light bulb.
“We’re taking a real idea from history and finding that simply describing it as occurring either like a light bulb or as a seed actually shaped the way people thought about it,” said Kristen Elmore, researcher at the Cornell University.
Elmore said the seed metaphor may elicit these sort of feminine-gendered notions regarding nurturing a seed until it takes root, adding that her study didn’t directly test whether a cognitive association with women as nurturers and caregivers influenced thinking.