According to new research, the words you use when describing an event can have a dramatic impact on how the actions of a person are perceived. When surveying jury-eligible adults, investigators varied animalistic descriptions of a violent crime and examined its effect on the severity of the punishment for the act. Compared with non-animalistic descriptions, animalistic descriptions resulted in significantly harsher punishment for the perpetrator due to an increase in perceived risk of recidivism.

“This research is yet another reminder that justice may be influenced by more than the facts of a case,” said lead author Dr. Eduardo Vasquez. The impact for trial is obvious. But what about mediation or arbitration? If you are trying to evoke an emotional response from the other side, or perhaps from the neutral, you might consider using such animalistic phrases. Also, analogizing to animals can depersonalize the comments made so that you can make a statement without having to directly connect the action to a participant.

source: Wiley. “Animalistic descriptions of violent crimes increase punishment of perpetrators.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 August 2014. <>.