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General/Theoretical:Mental Models. Dedre Gentner and Albert L. Stevens, eds

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This paper reviews evidence for the use of analogies and comparisons to understand risks and conflation of different risks, from mental model studies of lead paint hazard, global climate change and smallpox disease and vaccine. For each study participants use analogies with other risks explicitly, and often draw inferences based on their experiences or knowledge of those other risks. In the case of lead paint, study participants judged options for testing and mitigating lead paint by analogy with risks as diverse as radon and mercury, with corresponding differences in their assessments of proposed strategies. Mental models of smallpox disease and vaccine are often explicitly based on analogies with chickenpox, which is much more familiar to study participants. Many studies of climate change have demonstrated conflation of stratospheric ozone depletion with global warming from the greenhouse effect. Some study participants adopt other frames, such as weather, which affects their inferences in predictable ways. These findings are discussed in light of theories on the role of analogy and metaphor in thinking and inference. Taking into account the prevalence, structure and pitfalls of comparisons and analogies should help risk communication designers better realize their potential.
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Social scientists recognize that discourses are structured by historical and social processes, but only rarely make the case that discourses have internal coherence due to processes of individual and social cognition. Where social scientists have argued for internal structuring, however, they have disagreed over how language and cognition interact for (1) individuals, (2) dyads, and (3) social groups. Using semantic sequence and metaphor analysis, I analyze transcripts of a series of meetings of Scottish shipyard workers in order to investigate cognitive schemas structuring the workers'' discourse. Results show how individuals'' schemas shaped their participation in their group''s discourse. Possible future uses of the analytic method developed in this paper are discussed.
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People routinely develop their own theories to explain the world around them. These theories can be useful even when they contradict conventional technical wisdom. Based on in-depth interviews about home heating and thermostat setting behavior, the present study presents two theories people use to understand and adjust their thermostats. The two theories are here called the feedback theory and the valve theory. The valve theory is inconsistent with engineering knowledge, but is estimated to be held by 25% to 50% of Americans. Predictions of each of the theories are compared with the operations normally performed in home heat control. This comparison suggests that the valve theory may be highly functional in normal day-to-day use. Further data is needed on the ways this theory guides behavior in natural environments.
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