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Ervas, Francesca

Ervas, Francesca

NIAS-Lorentz Theme-Group Fellow

Translating Mental Illness into Words and Images: framing and perspective changing effects of metaphors in communication

The research project investigates – from a linguistic point of view – whether and how multimodal pictorial metaphors, i.e. metaphors represented in both verbal and visual modes, can translate mental illness into words and/or images, thereby displaying and explaining a phenomenon which otherwise would remain unintelligible and obscure to specialists, patients and the general public. The project will investigate the traffic metaphors used to explain addiction in psychiatry e.g., having a “dysfunctional gas pedal” or “no brakes”) and brain functioning in neuroscience (e.g., strongly connected white matter tracts as “highways” between hub regions of the network, referred to as “cities”). The project will highlight the verbal and pictorial metaphorical framing strategies used to represent and communicate mental illness. It aims to better understand whether and how these metaphors can translate these specific pathologies in a more contextually sensitive and comprehensive way. To this end, the project hypothesizes that the language used in explaining mental illness frames our view of the phenomenon and thus the related system of beliefs involved in scientific explanation. In case of metaphors evoking or representing images of mental illness, emergent properties of the metaphor, i.e. properties not reducible to neither the source nor the target properties, might influence the explanation of mental illness. Moreover, a deliberate use of novel or “revitalised” multimodal pictorial metaphors might act as “perspective changer” in the addressees, thereby becoming an effective communicative device for health operators to promote a change in people’s attitudes toward mental illness.

Selected Publications

– ERVAS F., Metaphor, Ignorance, and the Sentiment of (Ir)rationality, «Synthese», 2019, doi: 10.1007/s11229-019-02489-y.


– ERVAS F., Ledda A., Ojha A., Pierro G.A., Indurkhya B., Creative Argumentation: When and Why People Commit the Metaphoric Fallacy, «Frontiers in Psychology», 2018, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01815.

– ERVAS F., Gola E., Rossi M.G., Argumentation as a bridge between metaphor and reasoning, in S. Oswald, J. Jacquin, T. Herman (eds.), Argumentation & Language – Linguistic, Cognitive and Discursive Explorations, Argumentation Library Series 32, Springer, Berlin, 2018, Ch. 7, pp. 153-170, doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-73972-4_7.

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