Distinguishing Fact from Opinion: Effects of Linguistic Packaging

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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