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Professor brings science to the art of persuasion

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Photo of Nicholas Beauchamp

Assistant Professor Nick Beauchamp, who studies polit­ical speech and per­sua­sion as well as how polit­ical opin­ions are formed and change over time, has devel­oped a com­pu­ta­tional tool that brings sci­ence to the chal­lenging art of crafting per­sua­sive text.

As the pres­i­den­tial race con­tinues to heat up—the latest being that Repub­lican pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates were left fuming over what they called an unfair debate last week—the public will no doubt be more and more inun­dated with polit­ical mes­sages from debates, polit­ical ads, and the cam­paign trail. Can­di­dates face the chal­lenge of cut­ting through the clutter and having their mes­sages res­onate with voters.

“You might think it’s like Mad Men, with people sit­ting on a couch and ideas somehow bub­bling up, and then they share them with us.”

It’s a tricky task, for sure—but one that North­eastern assis­tant pro­fessor of polit­ical sci­ence Nick Beauchamp sees a new approach to address. He has cre­ated a new algo­rithm aimed at helping master the art of per­sua­sive lan­guage for things like polit­ical talking points and advertisements.

We are con­suming hun­dreds of these kinds of mes­sages a day, and their ori­gins are a bit mys­te­rious,” said Beauchamp, who is a core fac­ulty member of the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Net­works, Northeastern’s center for dig­ital human­i­ties and com­pu­ta­tional social sci­ence. “You might think it’s like Mad Men, with people sit­ting on a couch and ideas somehow bub­bling up, and then they share them with us.”

Beauchamp, who studies polit­ical speech and per­sua­sion as well as how polit­ical opin­ions are formed and change over time, has devel­oped a com­pu­ta­tional tool that brings sci­ence to the chal­lenging art of crafting per­sua­sive text. In fact, when he tested this algo­rithm, he found it had a sub­stan­tial impact in terms of gen­er­ating per­sua­sive text that shifted people’s opin­ions of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health­care law.

Read the full news@Northeastern story here.

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