When the Unlikely Becomes Likely: Qualifying Language Does Not Influence Later Truth Judgments


Journal Article

© 2018 Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition Judgments and decisions are frequently made under uncertainty. People often express and interpret this uncertainty with epistemic qualifiers (e.g., likely, improbable). We investigate the extent to which qualifiers influence truth judgments over time. In four studies, participants studied qualified statements, and two days later they rated the truth of previously qualified statements along with new statements. Previously qualified statements were rated as more likely true than new statements, even when the qualifiers had distinctly opposite meanings (i.e., certain versus impossible; Study 1) and when all qualifiers cast doubt on the veracity of the statements (e.g., improbable, impossible; Studies 2–4). Three additional studies suggested that this effect was not dependent on memory for the qualifiers. Consistent with a fluency interpretation, prior exposure made the statements easier to read, driving truth judgments, and overriding the influence of qualifying information. Implications for improving communication using qualifiers are discussed.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Stanley, ML; Yang, BW; Marsh, EJ

Published Date

  • March 1, 2019

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 8 / 1

Start / End Page

  • 118 - 129

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 2211-3681

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1016/j.jarmac.2018.08.004

Citation Source

  • Scopus