Using Abstract Language Signals Power

Abstract: Power can be gained through appearances: People who exhibit behavioral signals of power are often treated in a way that allows them to actually achieve such power (Ridgeway, Berger, & Smith, 1985; Smith & Galinsky, 2010). In the current article, we examine power signals within interpersonal communication, exploring whether use of concrete versus abstract language is seen as a signal of power. Because power activates abstraction (e.g., Smith & Trope, 2006), perceivers may expect higher power individuals to speak more abstractly and therefore will infer that speakers who use more abstract language have a higher degree of power. Across a variety of contexts and conversational subjects in 7 experiments, participants perceived respondents as more powerful when they used more abstract language (vs. more concrete language). Abstract language use appears to affect perceived power because it seems to reflect both a willingness to judge and a general style of abstract thinking.

Reference Information

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Method(s) Used in Paper

Linguistic Category Model

by Gun Semin and Klaus Fiedler.
Published in "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology" in 1988.

Perceived Power Measure

by Cheryl Wakslak, Pamela Smith, and Albert Han.
Published in "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology" in 2014.

APA-Format Citation

Wakslak, C. J., Smith, P. K., & Han, A. (2014). Using Abstract Language Signals Power. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107(1), 41-55.