Implicit Manipulation in Politics – Quantitatively Assessing the Tendentiousness of Speeches

Manipolazione mediante impliciti – misurare la tendenziosità dei discorsi politici

The project aims at contributing scientifically to the quality of democratic cohabitation. It deals with the manipulative strategies of political communication, with special regards to linguistic constructions that convey information implicitly to reduce awareness of doubtful contents.


PRIN: Research Project of National Interest – Progetti di ricerca di Rilevante Interesse Nazionale – Call for Applications 2017 (triennium 2019-2022), grant n. 2017STJCE9

ERC panels (European Research Council): Social Sciences and Humanities – The Human Mind and Its Complexity:
– SH4_11 Pragmatics, sociolinguistics, discourse analysis
– SH4_8 Language learning and processing (first and second languages)
– SH4_7 Reasoning, decision-making; intelligence


Implicit communication is a powerful means of persuasion, extensively characterizing manipulative discourse. Studies in theoretical pragmatics mainly associate implicitness with the use of presuppositions, implicatures and figurative language. These and other implicit strategies are effective ways to convey deceptive contents by reducing the receiver’s attention on them, which leads to bypassing vigilance on their truth, and to passive acceptance. This property makes implicit communication a potentially dangerous tool when it comes to using discourse to massively influence people’s choices and behaviors. Studies on the effects of linguistic implicitness concur with the idea that this attention-diverting function is used as a driving factor of persuasion and manipulation, extremely frequent in advertising, political propaganda and wherever language is used with persuasive aims. The proposed project intends to inquire the actual use of manipulative implicit strategies in political discourse and the neurophysiological correlates of their processing in the human brain.


To this end, the project will build on the definitions and descriptions of the categories of implicit communication as they have been developed by the proponents and other scholars during the past decades, to implement the following four lines of research and action:

1. THE ANNOTATED CORPUS: Collection of a wide multimedia corpus of Italian political speeches (from the whole history of the Republic) and its thorough annotation according to the relevant categories of linguistic persuasion.

2. THE WEB RESOURCE: Building a web resource to make the annotated corpus available to scholars and people in the field, and fully searchable via any combination of relevant parameters.

3. THE NEUROPHYSIOLOGICAL INQUIRY: Experimentally inquiring the correlates of implicit information processing in the brain, using signal processing techniques applied to encephalographic activity, to better clarify the neural bases of the persuasive power of implicits.

4. DISSEMINATION: Disseminating the results of the corpus analysis through a website, which will publish simple reports on the manipulation degrees of political speeches by all parties, candidates etc. The website will also provide multimedia tutorials on manipulative discourse to be downloaded for free (typically, for use in schools and other institutions).

The project is conceived as a first step, provisionally limited to Italian politics, of a wider project which will subsequently develop wide partnerships to extend its scope to persuasive implicit strategies in political communication in other countries, and possibly worldwide. 


The project will have relevant impacts of mainly three kinds: 

1. Creation and availability of the biggest existing corpus of italian political communication (about 3 millions words)

2. Dissemination of awareness about manipulative communication: an important contribution to the quality of civil cohabitation and to the effectiveness of democracy

3. Better understanding of the neurophysiological bases of persuasion through implicits.

The project will use up-to-date and innovative scientific means (especially from the fields of linguistic pragmatics and neurolinguistics) in order to produce a relevant improvement of the way our civilization deals with the phenomenon of mass persuasion, with particular regard to its use in the mechanics of democracy and in the forming of consensus.