Sincerity Over Accuracy: Epistemic Preferences and the Persuasiveness of Uncivil and Simple Rhetoric

Chiara Vargiu, Alessandro Nai


This study investigates the preregistered assumption that the persuasiveness of uncivil and simplified political messages is a function of individual epistemic preferences for sincerity rather than accuracy. We argue that individuals preferring sincerity over accuracy are more likely to perceive such messages as more emotionally sincere and thus be persuaded by them. We experimentally tested this on a convenience sample of U.S. respondents (MTurk, N = 424), manipulating exposure to persuasive messages characterized by either a low (uncivil/simplified) or a high (civil/elaborate) political style. As hypothesized, persuasiveness was a function of political style and, marginally, of PES. However, contrary to our expectations, a low political style decreased persuasion by decreasing the PES of the sponsor. Furthermore, this effect was independent of epistemic preferences. An exploratory analysis indicated that it was how respondents perceived the argument (rather than the sponsor) that mediated the relationship between political style and persuasion. Furthermore, political ideology significantly moderated the effect of political style.


incivility, simple language, persuasion, sincerity, accuracy, experiment

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