The truth about doublespeak: Is it a lie or just being convincing?



Doublespeak, or the use of euphemisms to influence opinion, allows leaders to avoid the reputational costs of lying while at the same time attracting people around their way of thinking, a new study has found.


Researchers at the University of Waterloo have found that the use of pleasant euphemistic terms biases people's assessment of actions to be more favorable. For example, replacing the unpleasant term " torture "with something more harmless and semantically pleasant, such as"extended interrogation".


"Like the well-studied phenomenon of fake news, manipulative language can serve as a tool to mislead the public, doing so not with lies, but 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 statements can provide the strategic use of the language with a plausible sense of dishonesty, thereby protecting them from the reputational costs associated with lying."


As part of a series of studies examining the effectiveness, consequences, and mechanisms of doubles in a psychological context, the researchers investigated whether the use of language characteristic of doubles could influence people's assessments of actions.



Researchers have identified doublespeak as a strategic manipulation of language to influence the opinions of others by presenting the truth in a manner that benefits one's self. To do this, the researchers assessed whether replacing a pleasant term, such as "working in a meat processing plant" instead of a semantically related unpleasant term, such as "working in a slaughterhouse", affects how a person's actions are interpreted.


The researchers ' results confirmed that people's assessments of actions can be biased in a predictable, self-serving way when a person uses strategic use of more or less pleasant terms when describing an action.


"Our research shows how language can be used strategically to shape peoples' opinions about events or actions, " Walker said. "At a lower level of risk, people may be able to use linguistic manipulation, such as double, often without correction."


The study, " Narrative Control: Euphemistic Language Influences Judgments of Actions while Avoiding perceptions of Dishonesty," by Waterloo School of Art researchers Walker, Jonathan Fugelsan, Martin Turpin, Ethan Meyers, Derek Koehler, and Jennifer Stolz, appears in the journal Cognition.

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