‘Waves’ and ‘flashes’ of the pandemic: How COVID-19 metaphors in Russian media influence reasoning
In this study, we examined how metaphors used in the Russian media to describe the COVID-19 virus affect the audience’s judgment about the virus and their willingness to take a vaccine. We found that the two conventional metaphors used to describe the dynamics of the spread of the coronavirus (‘wave’ and ‘flash’) have a limited impact on the audience. In particular, by conducting an online experiment (N=737), we revealed that texts in which the virus and vaccination were described metaphorically (‘a new flash of coronavirus’ / ‘vaccination could extinguish the flames of a new flash of coronavirus’; ‘a new wave of coronavirus’ / ‘vaccination could curb the onslaught of a new wave of coronavirus’) reduced fear and anxiety at the thought of the coronavirus, but this effect appears only in vaccinated participants. Metaphorical framing, while impactful at the affective level, did not affect ‘rational’ reasoning, such as estimates of the likelihood of becoming vaccinated or estimates of the number of cases in the country. Also, subjects’ responses to most of the questions correlated positively with their confidence in official information about the coronavirus. The article interprets the results in the context of current work in the field of metaphorical framing and health communication.