Double-talking or using euphemisms to influence opinion allows leaders to avoid reputational costs of lying while still attracting people to their way of thinking, a new study has found.
Researchers at the University of Waterloo have found that the use of pleasant euphemistic terms is addictive to people̵
“Like the much-studied phenomenon of ‘fake news’, manipulative language can serve as a tool to mislead society, not by lying, but rather by the strategic use of euphemistic language,” said Alexander Walker, lead author of research and PhD candidate in cognitive psychology at Waterloo. “Avoiding objectively false statements can provide the strategic user of the language with a plausible denial of dishonesty, thus protecting them from the reputational costs associated with lying.”
As part of a series of studies examining the effectiveness, consequences, and mechanisms of double speech in a psychological context, researchers investigated whether the use of language specific to double speech could be used to influence assessments of people’s actions.
Researchers define double speech as a strategic manipulation of language to influence the opinions of others by presenting the truth in a way that benefits one’s own property. To do this, researchers assess whether the replacement of an acceptable term – such as “work in a meat processing plant” instead of a semantically related unpleasant term such as “work in a slaughterhouse” – has an impact on human actions being interpreted.
The researchers’ findings confirmed that evaluations of a person’s action can be biased in a predictable, self-serving way when one uses the strategic use of more or less pleasant terms when describing an action.
“Our research shows how language can be used strategically to shape people’s perceptions of events or actions,” Walker said. “At a lower level of risk, people can use linguistic manipulations, such as double speech, often without correction.”
The study “Controlling Narrative: Euphemistic Language Influences Judgments of Action While Avoiding Perceptions of Dishonesty,” authored by researchers at the Waterloo School of the Arts, Walker, Jonathan Fugelsang, Martin Turpin, Ethan Myers, Ethan Myers. appears in the magazine Cognition.
Research shows that BSers are more likely to fall for BS
Alexander S. Walker et al. Narrative control: Euphemistic language influences judgments about actions while avoiding perceptions of dishonesty Cognition (2021). DOI: 10.1016 / j.cognition.2021.104633
Provided by the University of Waterloo
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