Empirical evidence for the role of connectives on the acceptability of straw man fallacies

Schumann, Jennifer; Zufferey, Sandrine (27 August 2020). Empirical evidence for the role of connectives on the acceptability of straw man fallacies (Unpublished). In: 53rd SLE Conference. Bucharest. 26.08. - 01.09.2020.

Official URL: https://osf.io/q3jxu/

In this paper, we investigate the role of causal connectives that convey attributive meaning such as since and as for the acceptability of straw man fallacies. This type of fallacious argument operates by misrepresenting the opponent’s position, namely by making it more extreme in order to refute it easily (see Lewiński & Oswald 2013). In two experiments, we assessed the impact of the French connectives puisque (similar to the English since) and comme (similar to as) for the acceptability of fallacious arguments involving a straw man. Based on previous research (Schumann, Zufferey & Oswald 2019), we expected that the presence of attributive connectives would raise participants’ awareness of a potential distortion between the speaker’s original meaning and the reported meaning, compared to implicit relations in which the attributive content has to be inferred. In addition, we expected to find a difference between the two connectives, due to their different degree of subjectivity. While puisque is a highly subjective connective (Zufferey & Cartoni 2012) comme can be used to convey both objective and subjective causal relations (Roze, Danlos & Muller 2012). In previous research, subjective connectives were found to create a forewarning effect that diminished the persuasiveness of argumentative texts compared to texts with objective connectives (Kamalski et al. 2008). We therefore expected a similar effect, leading a lower acceptability of fallacious arguments conveyed by puisque.
To test the role of connectives for the acceptability of straw man fallacies, we designed an offline task with 40 short dialogues about different societal topics. The first statement of the dialogue contained a standpoint (segment 1) followed by an argument in support of the standpoint (segment 2). This part of the dialogue was identical in all four conditions. The second part of the dialogue contained the manipulated variable. The first segment expressed a possible consequence of the argument given by the first speaker and was kept constant throughout the conditions. The second segment contained the argument which was either a fallacious or non-fallacious reformulation, and was introduced with a connective (puisque or comme) or simply juxtaposed to the previous segment. The participants had to evaluate every dialogue by responding to 4 questions on a 6-point Likert scale with an additional option they could select when they couldn’t give an answer. Questions 1 and 2 targeted specific features of the straw man and questions 3 and 4 aimed at the agreement with both speakers.
Our results indicate that people are intuitively able to spot straw man fallacies as they systematically judge them as less acceptable. More importantly for this workshop, our results also show that connectives do indeed play an important role in argumentative discourse as they forewarn people to the presence of a fallacious argument. Crucially however, not all connectives play a similar role, as only puisque created a forewarning effect. We conclude that the notion of subjectivity, crucial in discourse studies, is also highly relevant to account for participants’ reaction to fallacious arguments.

Kamalski, Judith, Leo Lentz, Ted Sanders, T. & Rolf A. Zwaan (2008). The forewarning effect of coherence markers in persuasive discourse: evidence from persuasion and processing. Discourse Processes 45(6), 545-579.
Lewiński, Marcin & Steve Oswald (2013). When and how do we deal with straw men? A normative and cognitive pragmatic account. Journal of Pragmatics 59 (Part B), 164-177.
Roze, Charlotte, Laurence Danlos & Philippe Muller (2012). Lexconn: a French lexicon of discourse connectives. Discours 10, 1-15.
Schumann, Jennifer, Sandrine Zufferey & Steve Oswald (2019). What makes a straw man acceptable? Three experiments assessing linguistic factors. Journal of Pragmatics 141, 1-15.
Zufferey, Sandrine & Bruno Cartoni (2012). English and French causal connectives in contrast. Languages in Contrast 12(2), 232-250.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Speech)


06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Linguistics and Literary Studies > Institute of French Language and Literature > Linguistic Studies
06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Linguistics and Literary Studies > Institute of French Language and Literature

Graduate School:

Graduate School of the Humanities (GSH)

UniBE Contributor:

Schumann, Jennifer and Zufferey, Sandrine


400 Language > 410 Linguistics
400 Language > 440 French & related languages




Jennifer Schumann

Date Deposited:

16 Sep 2020 12:17

Last Modified:

16 Sep 2020 12:37

Uncontrolled Keywords:

connectives, subjectivity, forewarning effect, straw man fallacy, empirical validation



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