Kittens and cougars: the effect of distinct dehumanizing metaphors for women on perception and behavior
Metaphors are employed in order to improve communication and foster our understanding of other persons. Labeling outgroup members as something other than human, however, is dehumanizing and suggests that the targets lack human qualities. Past research operates under the assumption that all forms of animalistic dehumanization inform a single perception of a group of people. The present research, following a "metaphor-enriched" perspective of social cognition, instead suggests that there are two common animalistic metaphoric frameworks for women that inform distinct impressions of women: the aggressive predator and the submissive prey. Male and female participants primed with a "woman-as-predator," "woman-as-prey," or "woman-as-person" metaphoric framework revealed their impressions of and intentions toward several nondescript women engaging in ambiguous behaviors. Responses to open-ended questions revealed that, consistent with predictions, perceivers interpret women's ambiguous behavior as more predator-like (aggressive, rude, or blunt) after exposure to a predator metaphor, and more prey-like (e.g., friendly, mild, forgetful) after exposure to a prey metaphor. Animalizing metaphors were also expected to inform behavioral intentions (predators require taming, while prey require paternalistic care), but results did not support predictions. Instead, gender alone influenced behavioral intentions (with women reporting greater intentions to assist) suggesting that social-role expectations may exert more influence on behavioral intentions than metaphoric framings do.