Press release
April 19, 2010

Computers Can Foster Creative Thinking

MetaViz helps to explore creative and critical thinking in blogs that have implications on computation and human thought

Irvine, Calif., April 19 “ Postdoctoral researcher Eric Baumer and undergraduate alumnus Jordan Sinclair, along with Professor Bill Tomlinson have published findings about visualizing blog metaphors to improve critical and creative thinking. The research has implications on relationships between mainstream media, bloggers, and blog readers. The conceptual framings realized in these metaphors have the potential to shape the social perceptions of politics.

Where traditional artificial intelligence research attempts to explore whether people can make computers think, the research team used metaViz to understand whether computers can help make people think. MetaViz, a web-based tool that analyzes metaphors in popular political blogs, connects language used in political blogs with language patterns observed in Wikipedia.

"The goal of metaViz is to foster critical thinking, to encourage people to look not only at what is being said by the words themselves, but also between and behind the words," says Baumer.

MetaViz utilizes Computational Metaphor Identification, a novel combination of methods from the research area of computational linguistics. The system starts by finding the most common, characteristic nouns from Wikipedia articles in certain categories (e.g. Military, Olympic sports, Parenting), then analyzes the text from those articles to find which verbs are strongly associated with those nouns. The system also performs similar analysis on blogs, finding the most characteristic nouns and verbs associated with them. Finally, it looks for correspondences between the verbs associated with nouns in Wikipedia and verbs associated with nouns in the blogs. The lists of potential metaphors shown in metaViz are based on these correspondences.

Examples of metaphors observed include "election is like a battle," which emphasizes conflict between differing views or differing forces. Candidates might "fight during an election" or be "defeated in a bitter primary." MetaViz visualizes such metaphors across blogs and allows users to leave comments about the metaphors. In analyzing those comments, Baumer and colleagues found evidence that users were not only thinking critically about metaphors identified in the system but also coming up with their own new, creative metaphors. Tools such as metaViz have the potential to draw attention to the framings behind political messages, enabling novel ways of reading blogs.

The research paper, "'America is Like Metamucil': Fostering Critical and Creative Thinking about Metaphor in Political Blogs" was presented at CHI 2010, the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1753326.1753541). The metaViz tool can be found online at http://metaviz.ics.uci.edu/viz.html. A short online tutorial is available at: http://metaviz.ics.uci.edu/tutorial/tutorial.html.