Subtle Linguistic Cues

From the Association for Psychological Science,

When we speak, we “leak” information about our social identity through the nuanced language that we use to describe others, according to new research in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. This research shows that people can infer a speaker’s social identity (e.g., political party affiliation) from how the speaker uses abstract or concrete terms to describe someone else’s behavior.

“Our findings show that language is a powerful tool for communication, not just in the traditional sense, but also in this more implicit, subtle manner,” explains lead researcher Shanette Porter of the University of Chicago. “Two people can use strikingly similar words but convey very different messages about their beliefs about others, their attitudes toward others and, as we find in the present research, who they are.”

Prior research has shown that people express beliefs, values, and stereotypes about others through subtleties in the way they use language – that is, they communicate not only through what they say, but how they say it.

Prior research has also demonstrated that we tend to use these linguistic subtleties in a favourable way when we’re talking about people who belong to the same group as us: We’re likely to use abstract language in discussing their desirable behaviours and concrete language in describing their undesirable behaviours. If we’re talking about someone from another group, however, the pattern reverses – we tend to use concrete language to describe positive behaviours, and abstract language to describe negative ones.

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