The Upsides of Thinking Forward: The Effect of Spatial Metaphor on Individuals’ Perceptions of Social Mobility
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SubjectIncome distribution--United States; Social mobility; Space perception; Social systems--Growth
The U.S. is currently experiencing one of the lowest rates of social mobility among industrialized nations. Researchers have suggested that overestimations of class/financial mobility in low SES individuals can lead to a heightened motivation to work and advance in society. Past literature has demonstrated that metaphors can influence the way individuals reason about complex social issues. We hypothesized people may perceive upward movement through society as more difficult than forward movement through society, because moving up in space is more difficult than moving forward in space. Over two studies we examined the effect of different spatial metaphors on people’s beliefs and attitudes about social mobility and redistributive policies, comparing subjects of different political ideologies and cultural orientation. Subjects were exposed to a reading about social mobility that contained either vertical or horizontal spatial metaphors. Immediately following the reading, subjects in both conditions completed a questionnaire, which assessed people’s level of belief in possible progress and support for redistributive social policies. Basic demographic information was also collected. Significant interactions between a conservative political ideology and vertical spatial metaphors were found in both Study 1 and 2, however the direction of effect in each study conflicted. Results of a combined analysis of both studies found no significant results. We found no evidence to support the hypothesis that spatial metaphors can influence people’s attitudes about social mobility.