Offensive Charm

Why political incorrectness promotes authenticity

Close up view of a stage microphone. Audience, blurred, looks toward the stageWhen Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez refers to immigrant detention centers as “concentration camps,” or President Trump calls immigrants “illegals,” they may take some heat for being incendiary. But using politically incorrect speech brings some benefits: It’s a powerful way to appear authentic.

Haas researchers, including lead author Michael Rosenblum, PhD 20, and Asst. Prof. Juliana Schroeder along with a Harvard colleague, found that adding even a single politically incorrect word or phrase in place of a politically correct one—”illegal” versus “undocumented” immigrants, for example—makes people view a speaker as more authentic and less likely to be swayed by others.

“The cost of political incorrectness is that the speaker seems less warm, but they also appear less strategic and more ‘real,’” says Schroeder. “People may feel less hesitant in following politically incorrect leaders because they appear more committed to their beliefs.”

But take heed. Because they appear more convinced of their beliefs, politically incorrect speakers may also appear less willing to engage in crucial political dialogue. The research appears in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.