Compare and contrast

“People think in metaphor.”

That’s a routine idea in cognitive science nowadays, and it’s pretty central to what I do. It’s so important that I’m constantly playing with new ways of making the same point.

One that’s been working well recently is to say, “People think by comparing and contrasting things.

“Whenever we encounter something new, we compare and contrast it to other things we know about and conclude, ‘It’s like…’

“And when we think or speak about one kind of thing as being like another, that comparison is called a metaphor.”

This habit of thinking in metaphor is so central to our everyday experience that we barely notice it. And it’s incredibly powerful: persuaders use it constantly, whether consciously or not.

For example, here’s a guide to how marketers use colour to encourage their customers to think in particular ways about products. Purple and black are said to denote high-end products, for example.

Funnily enough, a super deluxe hotel opened in Brentford, not far from me, today. But of course it’s not called the “Waldorf Astoria Brentford” since that would encourage people to compare the hotel to a less-than-glamorous district.

Instead it’s the “Waldorf Astoria Syon Park”, complete with marketing materials in black and purple. Who’d have expected that?

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