How To Manipulate opinion through the use of euphemisms

Manipulate opinion through the use of euphemisms

Using euphemisms to influence public opinion allows leaders to avoid the costs of lying in terms of reputation while rallying people to their way of thinking, shows a study published in June 2021 in the journal Cognition.

A euphemism is a "attenuated expression of a notion whose direct expression would have something unpleasant, shocking". 

One example, the researchers cite, is replacing an obnoxious term such as "torture" with something more harmless and semantically pleasurable, such as "enhanced interrogation."

Alexander Walker of the Department of Psychology at the University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada) and his colleagues (1) conducted this study among 1,906 people to assess whether the substitution of a pleasant term - for example, "to work in a meat processing plant ”instead of a nasty term like“ working in a slaughterhouse ”- has an impact on the interpretation of a person's actions.

The results confirm that people's assessment of an action can be predictably biased when a person strategically uses more or less pleasant terms to describe an action.

The influence of pleasant and unpleasant terms was reduced (but not eliminated) when actions were made less ambiguous by providing participants with a detailed description of each action.

Participants judged the more pleasing descriptions of actions to be largely truthful and distinct from lies, and judged agents using these descriptions to be more trustworthy and more moral than liars.

"Manipulative language can be used as a tool to deceive the public, not through lies but rather through the strategic use of language," the researchers conclude.

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