Is it lying or just being persuasive?

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Doublespeak, or using euphemisms to influence opinions, allows leaders to avoid the reputational cost of lying while still bringing people to their mindset, a new study finds.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo found that using pleasing euphemistic terms makes people’s evaluations of actions more favorable. For example, replacing an obnoxious term, “torture,” with something harmless and semantically pleasant, such as “enhanced interrogation.”

“Like the much-studied phenomenon of ‘fake news’, manipulative language can serve as a tool to mislead the public, not with falsehoods, but rather with the strategic use of euphemistic language,” said Alexander Walker, lead author of the study. and a Ph.D. candidate in cognitive psychology at Waterloo. “Avoiding objectively false claims can provide the strategic language user with a plausible denial of dishonesty, protecting him from the reputational costs associated with lying.”

As part of a series of studies on the effectiveness, consequences, and mechanisms of doublespeech in a psychological context, the researchers explored whether the use of the linguistic feature of doublespeech can be used to influence the evaluations of actions by people.

The researchers identified doublespeak as the strategic manipulation of language to influence the opinions of others by representing truth in a way that benefits one’s own self. To do this, the researchers assessed whether replacing a pleasant term – say, ‘working in a meat processing plant’ instead of a semantically related, obnoxious term like ‘working in a slaughterhouse’ – affects how a person’s actions are. interpreted.

The researchers’ results confirmed that people’s evaluations of an action can be biased in a predictable, selfish way when an individual uses the strategic use of more or less pleasant terms when describing an action.

“Our study shows how language can be used strategically to shape people’s views of events or actions,” said Walker. “With a lower level of risk, individuals can use linguistic manipulation, such as double-speaking, often without correction.”

The study, “Controlling the Narrative: Euphemistic Language Affects Judgments of Actions While Avoid Perceptions of Dishonesty,” written by Waterloo’s Faculty of Arts researchers Walker, Jonathan Fugelsang, Martin Turpin, Ethan Meyers, Derek Koehler and Jennifer Stolz, appears in the journal Cognition

Research shows that BS people are more likely to fall for BS

More information:
Alexander C. Walker et al. Mastering the Story: Euphemistic Language Influences Judgments of Actions While Avoiding Perceptions of Dishonesty, Cognition (2021). DOI: 10.1016 / j.cognition.2021.104633

Provided by University of Waterloo

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