Distinguishing Fact from Opinion: Effects of Linguistic Packaging
- Elsi Kaiser, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, United States
- Catherine Wang, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, United States
AbstractDuring language comprehension, what guides how we distinguish between objective facts and subjective opinions? Our three experiments investigate whether people's ability to detect subjective content – which we indicated by means of opinion-conveying adjectives (e.g. amazing, frustrating) – is modulated by the adjective's structural position. Our results indicate that altering the linguistic structure of a sentence influences our perception of how subjective it is: Even when the basic information being conveyed is held constant, packaging this information in different ways elicits different levels of perceived subjectivity. When a subjective adjective occurs in a structural position associated with new information, the text is rated as more subjective compared to a text that conveys the same basic information but has the same adjective in a position associated with already-known information. This suggests that the difference between fact and opinion, or at least our ability to recognize opinion-based information, can be distorted by linguistic packaging.
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