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Wesley Clark
11-18-2005, 09:18 PM
In the book 'don't think of an elephant' to prove how frames affect thoughts the author says this: "don't think of an elephant". However the phrase 'don't think of an elephant' immediately causes people to think of an elephant. According to the author the only way not to think of an elephant is to say the phrase 'think of an elephant'.

So how does mental framing work? Are there studies on this subject? It seems interesting, but I don't really understand it very well or why saying 'don't think of an elephant' causes people to think of an elephant.

panamajack
11-19-2005, 12:07 AM
I don't know about 'mental framing' but I really don't understand how "think of an elephant" would cause someone to not think of an elephant. Clearly you aren't influencing thoughts just by saying you're influencing thoughts, so stating the inverse of something you said has no effect.

People think of an elephant because it was something referenced in your statement, not because your statement about thought influenced them. And it's not a given that you can influence people's thoughts that way. If you were to say "think of a wolf", the reasonable person would probably not think of an elephant, but there's nothing really stopping them.

We can assume a sort of 'reasonable' person who understands what you say will necessarily think of an elephant any time you mention it, because that is a necessary part of 'reasonably' parsing your statement. You can't say to a reasonable person, "Fail to understand this sentence," and expect that it will be true. It's like a sign reading, "Don't read this sign." Does the author really think that if you wrote, "Read this sign" that people wouldn't be able to read it?

RaftPeople
11-19-2005, 01:39 AM
"How does 'thinking in frames' work"

It doesn't??

I'm with panamajack, I read your post and I thought of an elephant in response to the "don't think" and "think" statement.

Digital Stimulus
11-19-2005, 07:07 AM
Disclaimer: I have not read the book (http://www.chelseagreen.com/2004/items/elephant), but I think you've mischaracterized its tenor.

George Lakoff is a cognitive scientist and a linguist (from Berkeley). I have read Philosophy in the Flesh, which attempts to explain the development of metaphor and human conceptual structure by proposing that a necessary consideration is that humans are embodied. This may seem like a "Duh" statement, but it is actually fairly radical, unifying (in Lakoff's opinion) many seemingly discontinuous philosophical positions, all while relying on current cognitive research. He has another book about the development of mathematics (don't remember the title), also highly acclaimed.

What does that have to do with the OP? Well, as I understand it, the point is that human understanding is always dependent on the context of the discussion. The purposeful manipulation of said context is a way to "frame" the discussion, controlling the message. Lakoff says Republicans in the 2004 election did this masterfully, and that Democrats need to understand how to "frame" political issues and debates to compete.

With all that said, I have little idea what the title example is supposed to prove, but think it's not as simple as the OP makes it out to be. Hopefully, someone who has read it will drop in and explain.

Anaxienes
11-19-2005, 07:35 AM
I'm afraid I don't know about these frame thingies, but the question has interested me. I've wondered if it has any connection to Freud's idea of 'negation,' instances of which I hear everyday. He proposed that when someone has a thought which has been judged unacceptable and doesn't fit in one's idea of oneself, he or she represses it. Lurking in the unconscious however, it is ready to slip out given the slightest opportunity. One possibility is it's expression in a negative statement e.g. "No, really, I don't fancy her at all." Such statements are acceptable to the conscious mind, but drop the negatives and you've got the illicit thought. Just as cigars are sometimes just cigars (or are they?), not all negative statements are cases of negation. But especially when the negative expression is made emphatically and unasked for - "I didn't do it" - the interpretation is quite compelling.

Though maybe the reason one thinks about elephants on hearing 'don't think about elephants' is the banal reason to hear and understand words requires us to think about them. :)

Wendell Wagner
11-19-2005, 12:13 PM
I think that Lakoff's example of how difficult it is to not think of an elephant when someone tells you, "Don't think of an elephant" is a terrible way to introduce the idea of frames. It may be true that it's impossible to not think of an elephant when someone says, "Don't think of an elephant," and it may be true that people tend to think in frames, but I don't see that those two things are related to each other. Lakoff has developed a large, complex theory to explain how people think. A lot of it has to do with how people tend to use a small number of metaphors (= frames) in their thinking.

Lakoff has written many books about his ideas. Maybe a better place to start for applying these ideas to the American political scene is his book _Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think_. Maybe the best introduction to his entire system of how metaphors (or frames, as he calls them in other books) control how one thinks is his book (co-written with Mark Johnson) _Metaphors We Live By_.

You know, your OP isn't a very good example of how to ask a question about a book. You didn't even bother to give the name of the author of the book. Furthermore, I wonder why you're getting hung up on an example in the second paragraph of the first chapter of the book. If you don't immediately get an example, just continue on into the book. It doesn't work to get bogged down on every example an author gives. Frequently you can see an author's point better if you look at several examples of his ideas rather than getting stuck on a single example. In particular, as I said earlier, the "Don't think of an elephant" case is a lousy example of his frames/metaphors idea.

rowrrbazzle
11-19-2005, 03:18 PM
According to the author the only way not to think of an elephant is to say the phrase 'think of an elephant'.You must be mistaken. Mere mention of the word will cause people to think of it. The best way to get people to not think of an elephant is to tell them "Don't think of a butterfly." Then they'll be thinking about butterflies, not elephants.

Beware of Doug
11-19-2005, 03:48 PM
Lakoff's introduction to framing (http://www.rockridgeinstitute.org/projects/strategic/simple_framing)
(several other essays on this site worth reading as well)

It's about much more than not thinking about elephants (or donkeys, FWTW). It's about metaphors that are very involved –basically the "strict" and "nurturing" roles conservatives and liberals (respectively) want government to play. Each metaphor has its own set of buzz words. These help in "selling" a concept or proposal by giving it a name that makes it sound good (tax reform; pro-choice), or "slamming" it with a name that sounds bad (welfare cuts; pro-abortion).

One beauty of framing is that much of the association it does isn't obvious; it's semiconscious, and much of its effectiveness is in feelings rather than meanings. This makes it hard to analyze or criticize.

CC
11-19-2005, 04:27 PM
So how does mental framing work? Are there studies on this subject? It seems interesting, but I don't really understand it very well or why saying 'don't think of an elephant' causes people to think of an elephant.

General Clark, I'd suggest you actually read the book. It's a wonderful start on the idea of language, context, cognition, etc. And, in fact, it answers your questions. As to references, although that book doesn't have a section of references, Metaphors We Live By does, and it's also a good place to begin to understand Lakoff's ideas on language, and cognition. xo, C.

Wesley Clark
11-19-2005, 05:38 PM
General Clark, I'd suggest you actually read the book. It's a wonderful start on the idea of language, context, cognition, etc. And, in fact, it answers your questions. As to references, although that book doesn't have a section of references, Metaphors We Live By does, and it's also a good place to begin to understand Lakoff's ideas on language, and cognition. xo, C.

I have read the book. I understand to a degree his description of framing (referring to tax cuts as tax relief, implying that taxation is a burden that people must be relieved of) however I am more interested in things like why saying 'don't think of an elephant' causes people to think of an elephant.

Digital Stimulus
11-19-2005, 07:11 PM
...I am more interested in things like why saying 'don't think of an elephant' causes people to think of an elephant.
Oh, OK. Essentially, you're asking for details on how cognition works? If that's the case, I think this is the wrong forum, as there are no factual answers yet.

If, on the other hand, you're asking about specifically about the theory underlying framing, I think it would be appropriate to answer that in Lakoff's opinion cognition is comprised of metaphors that have their root in our bodily experience. The "input" to our systems dictates how and what we think, thus when the topic of "elephant" comes up, we think about elephants. Furthermore, the nature of metaphor is that concepts are inherently related. Framing political issues takes advantage of that by using terms that raise related concepts in a particular way, carrying emotional and conceptual baggage along with them, if you will.

II Gyan II
11-19-2005, 07:28 PM
On a related note, Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner have developed a theory of cognition which has its roots in Lakoff's work. It's called Conceptual Blending (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conceptual_blending). Check out the resource list I've compiled, linked on that Wikipedia page.

rkts
11-20-2005, 05:49 AM
If, on the other hand, you're asking about specifically about the theory underlying framing, I think it would be appropriate to answer that in Lakoff's opinion cognition is comprised of metaphors that have their root in our bodily experience. The "input" to our systems dictates how and what we think, thus when the topic of "elephant" comes up, we think about elephants. Furthermore, the nature of metaphor is that concepts are inherently related.
How is any of this new? Yes, the mind works by association, ideas are derived from perceptions, and words operate by triggering associated ideas. What's the insight here?

Digital Stimulus
11-20-2005, 08:28 AM
How is any of this new? Yes, the mind works by association, ideas are derived from perceptions, and words operate by triggering associated ideas. What's the insight here?
Well, I have to stick on the disclaimer that I'm no expert in the field. Also, I think I'm presenting things so simplistically as to butcher the full coherence of the ideas. I do hope that someone better versed in the details will correct or clarify any mistaken or unclear points I make. With that said, here goes...

What's new in the underlying theory is the reliance on embodiment and its reliance on scientific results from recent cognitive science research. The former removes many issues with previous theories, such as DesCartes' dualism. In addition, it clarifies other things; cognition has generally been treated from the point of view of disembodied logic. For instance, early AI research focussed on rule-based systems and symbol manipulation. There are a host of issues with this, including the question of "where do these symbols originate?" and "how does the brain use these symbols?" This was up until Rodney Brooks' reactive system paradigm and the resurgence of connectionist models (read: artificial neural networks) in the 1980s. Another example would be Chomsky's universal grammar, an abstract description of the structure of language. A body is not necessary for such theories; in fact, the theory is separate from and ignores the fact that we have bodies. IIRC, this plays into the "massive modularity theory of mind", which is an area of serious contention in cognitive science. Furthermore, issues have cropped up that conflict with current neuro-imaging research, in addition to other fields. (No, I'm in no way qualified or knowledgeable enough to enumerate any of these issues, although I wish I were.)

As for the political ideas of framing, I don't think there's much that's really new, per se. Especially when you consider that it's a reaction to the way Republicans have successfully used the technique already (e.g., the Republican strategist who put together the list of terms that should be used when discussing certain topics; I don't remember his name, but an example would be referring to "estate taxes" as "the DEATH tax"). The reason this is a big deal is that it made a particular strategy explicit. Democrats were flailing about and couldn't make their points adequately; Lakoff came along and said, "Look, here's the problem. You're already at a disadvantage from the get-go, because you're letting your opponents dictate the terms of the discussion." And he did so in a way that made people smack their foreheads in a Captain Obvious moment. Personally, I think it's simply that -- putting forth an idea that everyone knew was there, but somehow wasn't given its due, partly because it wasn't well formed, much less made explicit. Akin to Huxley's (paraphrased) reaction to Darwin -- that is, "That's so obvious; how could I not have seen that?"