This paper investigates how individuals perceive hyperbole in victim statements. Despite being one of the most commonly used literary tropes, the comprehension and cognition of hyperbole has been largely ignored in the psycholinguistics literature, and despite detailed literature outlining the emotional behaviour of victims, the use of figurative language has been largely ignored in the forensics literature. In the present study, two experiments were undertaken. In Experiment 1, 32 participants were recruited from groups with forensic experience or training. Participants were presented with 16 victim statements. Eight contained a number of hyperbolic phrases and eight contained non-hyperbolic counterparts. After reading each statement, participants were asked to answer questions that would quantify perceived credibility on accounts of belief, sympathy, victim-impact, and likeability. The results from Experiment 1 showed that hyperbolic speech made a significant negative impact on all four credibility measures. In Experiment 2, 32 jury-eligible individuals performed the same task. Results from this experiment demonstrated that the use of hyperbole made testimonies more believable and made the victim seem more impacted. Results are discussed in terms of the real-world implications of using hyperbolic language, and individual differences in the comprehension of and reaction to, figurative statements.
- Victim language
- Figurative language perception