Study: Person-Centered Terms Encourage Stigmatized Groups’ Trust in News

Published August 2022

In 2022, the Modifier team worked with the Center for Media Engagement on new research on the effect of person-centered terms on stigmatized groups’ trust in news. The results of the report reveal how small changes in language can shift attitudes. Person-centered terms bolstered trust in news and helped some groups feel more holistically represented and humanized in news coverage. In order to better connect with stigmatized groups, news organizations should use person-centered language in news articles and engage in conversations with their sources about their preferred terms.

Key Findings

  • Participants trusted articles that used person-centered terms for their group more than articles that used stigmatizing terms.
  •  News articles with person-centered terms boosted participants’ group esteem, or their perception that their group was humanized in the story.
  • People in recovery from substance use disorder felt more accurately represented by articles that used person-centered terms instead of stigmatizing terms.
  • People’s willingness to engage with the news and to share their story with a journalist didn’t vary depending on whether person-centered or stigmatizing terms were used.
  • Participants shared that they preferred that journalists use person-centered terms to describe their group in news articles.