Yale: White liberals dumb down speech when talking to minorities


  • The study examined how Democratic and Republican presidential candidates used language when speaking to black and white audiences.
  • A second study focused on how white people use language in emails to strangers with stereotypically white or black names.
  • The lead researcher called the findings “kind of an unpleasant surprise.”

White liberals are more likely to use dumbed-down language in conversations with racial minorities, suggests a study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

It’s some of the first research to explore how seemingly well-intentioned white people try to get along with racial minorities, and the findings were “kind of an unpleasant surprise” to lead researcher Cydney Dupree, assistant professor of organizational behavior at Yale School of Management.

“Even if it’s ultimately well-intentioned, it could be seen as patronizing,” Dupree told Yale Insights.

Dupree and her co-author, Susan Fiske of Princeton University, first analyzed the language used by white presidential candidates during 74 campaign speeches over a 25-year period. The settings of these speeches included, for example, a Hispanic small business roundtable discussion and a black church. The researchers analyzed the words candidates used along two metrics: competence and warmth.

In the study, competence referred to words related to status, dominance, skill, intelligence and social hierarchy, while warmth referred to words connoting ideas of trustworthiness, support, compassion, and friendliness.

The results showed Democratic candidates used fewer words related to competence…

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