Want to seem more authentic? Use politically incorrect language.

Politically incorrect speakers seem less calculated and more "real," according to the authors of a new Berkeley study.

Want to seem more authentic? Use politically incorrect language.
Image source: The Washington Post / GETTY
  • The study involved nearly 5,000 participants across nine experiments, which found that both liberals and conservatives viewed politically incorrect speakers as more authentic.
  • The results also suggest that political incorrectness can offend liberals and conservatives — it just depends on the issue.
  • About 80 percent of Americans believe political correctness is a problem in the U.S., according to a 2018 study.


Speaking in a politically correct manner might help you to avoid offending people. It might lower your chances of making waves at work. But one thing political correctness won't help you with, according to new research, is appearing authentic to others, on both sides of the aisle.

The findings — which come from researchers at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business and are set to be published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychologysuggest that using politically incorrect language like "illegal" versus "undocumented" immigrants makes a speaker come off as more authentic and less persuadable by others.

"The cost of political incorrectness is that the speaker seems less warm, but they also appear less strategic and more 'real,'" Juliana Schroeder, co-author of the paper, told Haas Newsroom. "The result may be that people may feel less hesitant in following politically incorrect leaders because they appear more committed to their beliefs."

The forthcoming study involves some 5,000 participants across nine studies, in which political correctness is defined as "using language or behavior to seem sensitive to others' feelings, especially those others who seem socially disadvantaged." In addition to other tasks in the experiments, all participants were asked about their ideological backgrounds.

The results suggest that liberals and conservatives are about equally likely to get offended by political incorrectness. But it varies by subject matter: Calling poor white people "white trash," for example, is more likely to offend conservatives than liberals.

"Political incorrectness is frequently applied toward groups that liberals tend to feel more sympathy toward, such as immigrants or LGBTQ individuals, so liberals tend to view it negatively and conservatives tend to think it's authentic," Michael Rosenblum, the lead author of the paper, told Haas Newsroom. "But we found that the opposite can be true when such language is applied to groups that conservatives feel sympathy for — like using words such as 'Bible thumper' or 'redneck.'"

But the perception that politically-incorrect people are relatively hard to persuade didn't seem to hold up. In one experiment, the researchers asked 500 pairs of people to have an online debate about funding for historically black churches, a topic that had about a 50–50 split among the participants, with no significant support along racial, ideological or religious lines. The researchers instructed one of the participants to use either politically correct or politically incorrect language with their debate partner.

After, participants were more likely to say they were effectively persuasive in the debate when their partners were politically correct. However, the results showed no significant difference in which group was more easily persuaded, suggesting it's a good idea to be skeptical about initial perceptions about the persuadability of people based on political correctness.

The study also revealed two other findings:

  • Participants tended to think they could better predict the opinions of politically incorrect speakers, because they believed in the speaker's convictions.
  • Though ditching the morally coded language of political correctness seems to help people appear more authentic, the results also indicated that people tend to think that speakers who use politically incorrect language are older.

Most Americans think political correctness is problem

A 2018 study found that 80 percent of the American general population believe that "political correctness is a problem" in the U.S. The responses varied by group, with devoted conservatives reporting the highest level of agreement (97 percent) and progressive activists the lowest (30 percent). But in general, the majority of people in nearly every group – moderates, liberals and conservatives, and a majority of people in every racial group – agreed that political correctness is a problem.

As one 40-year-old American Indian in Oklahoma told the researchers:

"It seems like every day you wake up something has changed. . . Do you say Jew? Or Jewish? Is it a black guy? African-American? … You are on your toes because you never know what to say. So political correctness in that sense is scary."

A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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