EQUIVOCATION: CHARACTER INSURANCE

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Abstract

This study investigated the effects of equivocation (deliberate vagueness) on source credibility (competence and character), agreement, and perceived vagueness. The results indicated that the equivocated message produced significantly higher character ratings for the speaker than did the clearly stated disagreeable message, but there was no significant difference for the competence ratings. The equivocated message also produced significantly more agreement than the clear message. These findings, as well as others, led the researchers to conclude that equivocating disagreeable arguments helps preserve credibility—most notably the character ratings; and that character is the best predictor of message agreement. The results were interpreted in terms of information processing theory, suggesting that equivocated messages evoke meanings which are congruent with prior experience and attitudes. In contrast to the tenet advocated since antiquity that all issues should be addressed clearly, this study indicates that under certain circumstances the speaker can enhance effectiveness by using the rhetorical technique of deliberate vagueness.

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