Head and Heart Metaphors for Moral Decision Making: Conceptual or Communicative?


When faced with a moral dilemma, following your head versus your heart can result in very different decisions. Earlier work has argued that people who “self-locate” in the head tend to make more rational and less emotional decisions to moral dilemmas than those who “self-locate” in the heart. We replicate this finding, suggest an alternative interpretation of the result, and then extend it with a novel experiment. In a metaphor framing task, we manipulated the salience of the head/heart metaphors—by using them (a) in a single sentence, (b) a more elaborate paragraph, or (c) by emphasizing one in contrast to the other. We found that people who received the head metaphor made more rational decisions than those who received the heart metaphor, but only in the high salience condition that contrasted the two metaphors. This finding illustrates the communicative value of metaphor, which can be enhanced through comparison.

Back to Table of Contents