What I Do

I believe in sound and innovative theory work at the core of scholarship and research, and in the empirical validation of cognitive and social phenomena thorough conceptual discourse analyses, experiments & survey studies, and neuroscience. 

My work is in the discipline of Cognitive Science, with a focus on embodiment, conceptual metaphor, and frames. The overarching question I ask is, How is the mind structured, where do these structures come from, and how do they impact our world perception and actions, specifically social and political actions.

A central line of my work investigates political ideology and different aspects of conservatism and liberalism, such as: moral belief systems at the foundation of attitude formation, the usage of (distinct) metaphors and frames in conservative and liberal reasoning and discourse, and differences in causal reasoning between the two political camps. As part of this research, I also investigate the impact that (moral) framing in public discourse has on political beliefs and attitudes, as well as what part of the citizenry is especially vulnerable to political framing effects.

Another important line of investigation targets the ways in which we reason about the categories 'conservative' and 'liberal', i.e., the conceptual patterns we utilize to make sense of the rather abstract idea of political ideology. 

Then, I have worked extensively in gesture research, where I focus on the embodiment, form, and function of pragmatic gestures in face-to-face discourse and in political debate. 

Moreover, I'm working in research that targets neural simulation, i.e., the simulation of things like 'action' or 'emotions' in the brain when processing language. Here, my work focuses on the simulation of moral (political) disgust and the relationship between political judgment, disagreement, disgust simulation, and emotion. Moreover, I'm working on new ways to detect metaphor in the brain, as well as on ways to detect simulations of micro-level differences in verb semantics. 

Finally, I've been working and writing on deep, theoretical questions of embodiment, conceptual metaphor, and social cognition, such as: non-verbal embodiment types, primary metaphors, high- and low-level metaphoric mappings, parallelism between metaphoric source- and target-frames, basic-level cognition and contested concepts, event-structure metaphors, and metaphor acquisition & functional types.

My Work in More Detail

Moral Politics Theory

Validation of the (conservative) strict-father and (progressive) nurturant-parent models as cognitively unified & independent belief systems tat predict conservative and liberal stances, respectively. 

  • Development of the Moral Politics Scale, an instrument that gauges strict and nurturant moral beliefs at the basis of political judgment. 
  • Empirical testing of the unidirectional, causal role of the Nation-As-Family metaphor for social morality & political attitude formation.
  • Verification of the 'political middle' as as especially malleable by moral framing, and as biconceptual (utilization of two moral belief systems) vs. being a group that is moderate on all issue or ideologically void.
  • Theoretical extension to account for more diverse political systems. 
  • Conceptual analyses of public discourse in US-America and Europe, targeting moral metaphors and frames, with a focus on primary morality metaphors, such as Moral Disgust and Moral Health metaphors, as well as moral frames across issue areas and moral framing-vacuums.
  • Conceptual analyses of ideological framing of Contested Concepts, such as 'freedom', 'fairness', 'equality', and 'solidarity' in European public discourse. 

Systemic Causation & Environmentalism

  • Development of the Systemic Causation Scale, which measures direct vs. systemic causal reasoning as the basis of environmental and global warming beliefs, as well as social inequality and economic beliefs. 
  • Ideology types: low systemic-causation endorsement for conservatives, high systemic-causation endorsement for liberals.
  • Increase of pro-environmental attitudes in conservatives as a result of experimentally increased systemic-causal cognition.

Conceptualization of Political Ideology

  • Theory and empirical work on the farm-semantic and metaphoric construal of 'conservative' and 'liberal', and its perceptual fallout for attitude formation as well as implicit moral (de-)valuation of conservatives or liberals. 

Gesture Pragmatics

  • Typology of gesture embodiment types.
  • Typology of Discourse Management Gestures. 
  • Typology of prosodic gesture mechanisms.
  • Development of Bimodal Speech Acts Theory.
  • Metaphoric and force-dynamic reasoning at the basis of pragmatic functions of gesture.
  • Gesture as a means to dominate and manage political debate and interview. 

Neural Simulation, Metaphor, & Morality

  • Neural simulation of core disgust during processing of metaphoric moral disgust language, & heightened activity in emotional regions for metaphoric vs. literal moral political statements.
  • Neural simulation of negated vs. affirmative utterances, specifically for hand-motion verbs in metaphoric vs. literal political statements. 
  • Novel approaches to detecting metaphoric mappings in the brain.
  • Novel approaches to detecting simulation of micro-level verb semantics in the brain, such as force-dynamic and directionality patterns, especially in metaphoric construals of social interaction.

I'm lucky to be working with brilliant colleagues. Some are so vital to my work that they need special mentioning here:

All empirical investigations of Moral Politics Theory were done together with Matt Feinberg (University of Toronto), as well as with George Lakoff (University of California, Berkeley), and some with Laura Saslow (University of Michigan). All neuroscientific investigations are conducted with Vesna Gamez-Djovic (University of Southern California), as well as with Lisa Aziz-Zadeh (University of Southern California), and some with Ben Bergen (University of California, San Diego) and other colleagues. I work with Eve Sweetser (University of California, Berkeley) in the field of gesture research. Finally, I have worked and written extensively with George Lakoff (University of California, Berkeley), with an emphasis on conceptual analyses of political discourses and the application and theoretical extension of Moral Politics and Conceptual Metaphor Theory.

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