Name calling is a form of verbal abuse in which insulting or demeaning labels are directed at a person or group. This phenomenon is studied by a variety of academic disciplines from anthropology, to child psychology, to politics. It is also studied by rhetoricians, and a variety of other disciplines that study propaganda techniques and their causes and effects. The technique is most frequently employed within political discourse and school systems, in an attempt to negatively impact their opponent.
As a cognitive bias in propaganda
Name calling is a cognitive bias and a technique to promote propaganda. Propagandists use the name-calling technique to incite fears or arouse positive prejudices with the intent that invoked fear (based on fear mongering tactics) or trust will encourage those that read, see or hear propaganda to construct a negative opinion, in respect to the former, or a positive opinion, with respect to the latter, about a person, group, or set of beliefs or ideas that the propagandist would wish the recipients to believe. The method is intended to provoke conclusions and actions about a matter apart from an impartial examinations of the facts of the matter. When this tactic is used instead of an argument, name-calling is thus a substitute for rational, fact-based arguments against an idea or belief, based upon its own merits, and becomes an argumentum ad hominem.
In politics and public opinion
Politicians sometimes resort to “name calling” during political campaigns or public events with the intentions of gaining advantage over, or defending themselves from, an opponent or critic.
Gratuitous verbal abuse or "name-calling" is not on its own an example of the argumentum ad hominem logical fallacy. The fallacy occurs only if personal attacks are employed to devalue a speaker's argument by attacking the speaker; personal insults in the middle of an otherwise sound argument are not ad hominem attacks.
- Andy McDonald, Lene Palmer. Propaganda Techniques Archived March 2, 2009, at the Wayback Machine., George Mason University
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