New study examines the effect of labels: The importance of “people-first” language

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By Giulia Lowe and Gwenda Willis

The present study examined the effect of offense-based labels on community members’ willingness to volunteer with people convicted for varying offenses and any priming effect of labeling language. Participants (N = 310) were randomly assigned to a label condition or a neutral condition and completed an anonymous online survey about their willingness to volunteer with different groups. The labeling condition utilized labels (e.g., “sex offenders,” “murderers”), whereas the control condition utilized neutral descriptors (e.g., “people who have committed crimes of a sexual nature”). Overall, findings supported the hypothesis that offense-based labels were associated with less willingness to volunteer, with findings most pronounced for the “sex offender” and “child sex offender” labels. Participants in the labeling condition showed greater voluntary use of labels compared with neutral language and were more likely to use labels compared with participants in the neutral condition. Implications for influencing public opinion are discussed.

The full study may be seen here.

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