Language of Political Aggression- 2012

Many of us get into heated debates whenever politics are involved.  But what can be said about political candidates and leaders and their aggressiveness?  Many campaigns and debates turn into  all out battles when a candidate is referring to their opponent or even groups that they don’t really  like.

Want to know the secrets behind language and political aggression?

Drs. David Matsumoto and Hyi Sung Hwang’s continuing research has delved into the topic of language and how it can reveal much about a person’s intentions.  They studied the language used by group leaders in inciting their groups to aggress or not.

They noted that research into the field of language and aggression is very important and can be extremely beneficial both in theoretical and practical applications.  Theoretically it can improve our understanding of the mental state of the expressor and the psychological processes involved in communication related to aggression.

The practical implications of the identification of such markers are huge.  It provides a way to assess the potential for aggression by others.  This can be beneficial in a variety of professions, making possible the development  of early warning systems or methods to monitor the dynamic nature of intergroup relationships.


Drs. David Matsumoto and Hyi Sung Hwang examined the words used by world leaders and leaders of ideologically motivated groups when talking about their despised opponent/out-groups in their speeches.

They tested three hypotheses about linguistic differences in speech content separately for groups that committed an act of aggression and those that did not.

1.  That leaders of pro-aggressive groups use more first-person plural pronouns and less first-person singular pronouns as their focus is on their social identity with their group.  “We” produces feeling of closeness, similarity and sharing a common date with others more than the use of “I“.

2.  Speeches by leaders of aggressive groups would contain greater words of cognitive complexity than speeches of nonaggressive groups.  Cognitive complexity refers to the degree to which a person differentiates among multiple competing solutions and is attempting to integrate those solutions (Abe, 2012).

3.  The dehumanization of objects of hatred or aggression.  Speeches by leaders of aggressive groups would use less words related to social connectedness.  Aggression is easier when out-groups are dehumanized, creating social distance between the aggressor and victim.


Support was found for all three hypotheses, indicating that speeches associated with aggression had different linguistic markers than speeches associated with nonaggression.

The researchers analyzed archive records of such speeches and anchored those speeches to an identified act of aggression or non-aggressive resistance.   The speeches were analyzed at three points in time prior to those acts.

The study’s finding highlighted the function of speech by providing glimpses into the mind-set of the speech makers as their groups ramp up to violence or not.

The study is not without limitations.  One such limitation is that language associated with physical aggression may also be different than the language of verbal aggression and the  limited amount of source material across time frames.

Regardless of these limitations, the findings provided support for all three hypotheses.

  To read the entire findings of the study go to Journal of Language and Social Psychology or click here.

One response to “Language of Political Aggression- 2012”

  1. Keith D. says:

    “Cognitive complexity refers to the degree to which a person differentiates among multiple competing solutions and is attempting to integrate those solutions (Abe, 2012).”

    Can you elaborate on this point a little more? I can’t extrapolate quite what’s meant here. Perhaps with an example too?

    What isn’t clear to me is what’s meant by the differentiation among multiple competing solutions, and integration of those solutions. It seems ambiguous to me, but I’m autistic and sometimes these things are perfectly clear to other people. It might also help if I had the proper background, because I suspect that the words “differentiate”, “integrate”, and the phrase “competing solutions” are being used here esoterically rather than traditionally.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Copyright © Humintell 2009-2017