What if the way that we discussed and understood cancer impacted our ability to prevent the disease in the first place?
We often use metaphors like “war on cancer,” “battling the disease,” and “surviving the fight” to talk about cancer. But what if those war-like metaphors unintentionally influence how we deal with cancer?
For Dave Hauser ’08, those questions have defined his research in conceptual metaphor theory since he began to pursue a Ph.D. in social psychology at the University of Michigan.
“This is an exciting area. Outside of anecdotal evidence and speculation, there is no real evidence one way or the other,” Hauser explained. “There is speculation on both sides. That’s what makes it so interesting to do research in this area. No matter what the results will be, it will have an impact on both sides of the debate.”
After working on this research for the past few years, Hauser and his research partner Norbert Schwarz of the University of Southern California published an article analyzing their results in December of 2014.
Essentially, they’ve found that war-like metaphors have unintended negative side-effects.
“War metaphors force us to think of cancer as an enemy that we are at war with,” Hauser explained. “People don’t think of engaging in passive or even self-limiting preventative measures when they think of war, so when they think of cancer in those terms, they are less likely to engage in these tactics to lower their risk of cancer.”
Their article very quickly gained national attention – it was the subject of a podcast with On the Media, a Q&A with Cancer Today, and numerous articles published online, including coverage in The Guardian, New York Magazine, and TIME. While Hauser finds the attention a bit surreal, he is grateful for the multiple perspectives it brings to his research.
“It’s been hectic but exciting. This is the first time I’ve received this kind of feedback, and it has forced me to think about my research in different ways,” Hauser said.
These results, combined with the overwhelming reaction to them, have encouraged Hauser to build upon his research. In fact, he is already looking at new areas to focus on, like whether or not these war metaphors encourage people to volunteer for more aggressive treatment than they might actually need.
Conceptual metaphor theory has long been a research area of interest for Hauser. A psychology major, he first began to explore this area while working as a research assistant for Prof. Brian Meier.
After spending his sophomore year learning how to conduct experiments and analyze research, Hauser developed his own experiments and had even published an article on those results by the time that he graduated.
“I learned right away that Dave was very sharp, responsible, and curious, and that he could be a very good researcher in psychology,” Meier said. “By the time that he left Gettysburg, he was doing everything that most students in graduate programs are doing.”
The ability to conduct research and analyze those results really left an impact on Hauser.
“Every professor in the psychology department was incredibly influential in my research,” Hauser stated. “Having three years of hands-on experience with multiple professors isn’t something you get at a larger institution.”
Meier also noted that Hauser quickly built upon the formative experiences he had at Gettysburg when he began conducting his research at Michigan.
“He’s continued this work in a way, but he has really taken it so much farther,” Meier explained. “He isn’t just examining how we use metaphors to understand complex concepts. He is taking it a step further and trying to understand how those metaphors in turn influence our behavior. It’s fascinating.”
However, this research has come full circle for Hauser as he has begun mentoring students the way that Meier mentored him as an undergrad.
“I’ve been working a lot with research assistants on these studies, and it’s funny in that I approach working with them much in the same way that Brian has worked with me,” Hauser said.
“At Gettysburg, we would hold these round table discussions of articles and research that we would do. At Michigan, I found myself going back to those patterns. I run my labs much the same way as Brian did at Gettysburg.”
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Founded in 1832, Gettysburg College is a highly selective four-year residential college of liberal arts and sciences with a strong academic tradition. Alumni include Rhodes Scholars, a Nobel laureate, and other distinguished scholars. The college enrolls 2,600 undergraduate students and is located on a 200-acre campus adjacent to the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania.
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Posted: Mon, 22 Jun 2015
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