Quoted Out of Context: Contextomy and Its Consequences


  • Matthew S. McGlone

    Corresponding author
    1. Matthew S. McGlone (PhD, 1994, Princeton University) is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Texas at Austin
    Search for more papers by this author

Address communication to McGlone at Department of Communication Studies, University of Texas at Austin, 1 University Station A1105, Austin, TX 78712; matthew_mcglone@mail.utexas.edu.


“Contextomy” refers to the excerpting of words from their original linguistic context in a way that distorts the source's intentions. Contextomy prompts audiences to form a false impression of the source and contaminates subsequent interpretation when the quote is restored to its original context. In the reported experiment, participants read fabricated quotes about affirmative action and judged their sources' support for the policy. One quotation was strategically excerpted from a neutral paragraph to portray the source as either favoring or opposing the policy. When they later read the full paragraph, participants encouraged to infer attitude-related source characteristics revised their judgments less than others prompted to infer unrelated characteristics. The implications of these results are considered in light of contextomy's role in anti-affirmative action campaigns.