Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Literal vs. hyperbole: examining speech preferences in testimonies of victims of sexual crime

Desai, Shreyasi; Filik, Ruth


Shreyasi Desai

Associate Professor


Victim emotionality is one of the most influential factors in sexual crime cases. Traditionally, the study of emotionality has been limited to behaviour-descriptors such as conveying panic or appearing shaken, however, such studies must also be extended to the content of the victim’s testimony. Factors that affect emotionality within victim speech have not been sufficiently explored. Figurative language–such as metaphor, hyperbole, and simile–has been viewed historically as a tool to enhance persuasion, source credibility, and influence attitude changes within listeners. Thus, the use of figurative language may be the quickest and most effective way for victims to communicate the impact of sexual abuse. The present research focused on the intentional meta-linguistic content of victim testimony such as the use of figurative language; specifically, hyperbole. We investigated whether professionals and laypersons preferred a hyperbolic phrase, or a literal phrase in victim testimony, when asked to assume the role of the speaker, using a ‘fill-in-the-blank’ task. The results showed that professionals preferred the literal phrase, whereas laypersons preferred the hyperbolic. This would suggest that the pragmatic functions of hyperbole are different for laypersons (who could become complainants or jury members) and law enforcement; the implications of this difference are discussed.


Desai, S., & Filik, R. (2022). Literal vs. hyperbole: examining speech preferences in testimonies of victims of sexual crime. Psychology, Crime and Law,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 21, 2022
Online Publication Date Jul 11, 2022
Publication Date Jul 11, 2022
Deposit Date Jul 7, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jul 12, 2023
Journal Psychology, Crime and Law
Print ISSN 1068-316X
Electronic ISSN 1477-2744
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords Law; General Psychology; Pathology and Forensic Medicine
Public URL
Publisher URL