When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez refers to immigrant detention
centers as “concentration camps,” or President Trump calls immigrants
“illegals,” they may take some heat for being politically incorrect. But
using politically incorrect speech brings some benefits: It’s a
powerful way to appear authentic.
Researchers at Berkeley Haas found that replacing even a single
politically correct word or phrase with a politically incorrect
one–“illegal” versus “undocumented” immigrants, for example–makes
people view a speaker as more authentic and less likely to be swayed by
“The cost of political incorrectness is that the speaker seems less
warm, but they also appear less strategic and more ‘real,’” says Asst.
Prof. Juliana Schroeder, co-author of the paper, which includes nine
experiments with almost 5,000 people and is forthcoming in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
“The result may be that people may feel less hesitant in following
politically incorrect leaders because they appear more committed to
Although politically correct speech is more often defended by
liberals and derided by conservatives, the researchers also found
there’s nothing inherently partisan about the concept. In fact,
conservatives are just as likely to be offended by politically incorrect
speech when it’s used to describe groups they care about, such as
evangelicals or poor whites.
“Political incorrectness is frequently applied toward groups that
liberals tend to feel more sympathy towards, such as immigrants or LGBTQ
individuals, so liberals tend to view it negatively and conservatives
tend to think it’s authentic,” says Berkeley Haas PhD candidate Michael
Rosenblum, the lead author of the paper (the third co-author is
Francesca Gino of Harvard Business School). “But we found that the
opposite can be true when such language is applied to groups that
conservatives feel sympathy for–like using words such as ‘bible
thumper’ or ‘redneck’.”
The researchers asked participants of all ideological backgrounds
how they would define political correctness. The definition that emerged
was “using language or behavior to seem sensitive to others’ feelings,
especially those others who seem disadvantaged.” In order to study the
phenomenon across the political spectrum, they focused on politically
incorrect labels, such as “illegal immigrants,” rather than political
opinions, such as “illegal immigrants are destroying America.”
That allowed them to gauge people’s reactions when just a single
word or phrase was changed in otherwise identical statements. They found
that most people, whether they identified as moderate liberals or
conservatives, viewed politically incorrect statements as more
authentic. They also thought they could better predict politically
incorrect speakers’ other opinions, believing in their conviction.
In one field experiment, the researchers found that using
politically correct language gives the illusion that the speaker can be
more easily influenced. They asked 500 pre-screened pairs of people to
have an online debate on a topic they disagreed on: funding for
historically black churches. (The topic was selected because it had a
roughly 50/50 split for and against in a pilot survey; no significant
difference in support and opposition across political ideology; and
involved both a racial minority and religious beliefs.) Before the
conversation, one partner was instructed to either use politically
correct or incorrect language in making their points.
Afterwards, people believed they had better persuaded the
politically correct partners than the politically incorrect partners.
Their partners, however, reported being equally persuaded, whether they
were using PC or politically incorrect language. “There was a perception
that PC speakers were more persuadable, though in reality they
weren’t,” Rosenblum said.
Although President Trump’s wildly politically incorrect statements
seem to make him more popular in certain circles, copycat politicians
should take heed. The researchers found that politically incorrect
statements make a person appear significantly colder, and because they
appear more convinced of their beliefs, they may also appear less
willing to engage in crucial political dialogue.
1. US Security from Michael_Novakhov (88 sites)