Management Professor's research finds powerful people use more abstract language

Assistant Professor of Management Priyanka Joshi analyzed U.S. Congressional speeches to asses the influence of power on word use.

Joshi and her team of psychologists analyzed speech records from 2001 to 2017 using text coding that categorized the concreteness/abstractness of 40,000 commonly used words. They hypothesized that members of the Senate would invoke more abstract language, given their perception as the more powerful branch of Congress.

The researchers found that members of the Senate invoked significantly more abstract language than members of the House of Representatives. They also discovered that female members of Congress were more likely to speak in concrete terms, while their male counterparts spoke more in the abstract - a real-world example of the perpetuation of gender stereotypes.

“People who experience power due to their role in social hierarchies speak more abstractly than those who lack power in their everyday experiences," the researchers conclude, "as do those who are situationally primed in a given context to feel powerful.”

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