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Exaggeration is a representation of something in an excessive manner. Words or expressions associated with exaggeration include:

  • catastrophization
  • hyperbole
  • laying it on thick
  • magnification
  • maximization
  • overreaction
  • overstating
  • stretching the truth

Everyday and psycho-pathological contexts

Contexts of exaggeration include:

  1. boasting and bragging by arrogant or manipulative people.
  2. inflated praise in the form of flattery and puffery.[1]
  3. a type of deception.[2]
  4. amplifying achievements, obstacles and problems to seek attention.
  5. magnifying small injuries or discomforts as an excuse to avoid responsibilities.[3]
  6. a form of cognitive distortion called magnification.
  7. overemphasizing one issue and downplaying (minimizing) the other to divert attention from it – see also Spin.
  8. inflation of the difficulty of achieving a goal after attaining it, possibly to improve self-esteem.[4]
  9. a grandiose sense of self-importance observed in narcissists.[5]
  10. "self-dramatization, theatricality, and exaggerated expression of emotion" observed in those with those with histrionic personality disorder[5] and other Cluster B personality disorders.
  11. associated with depressive, neurotic or paranoid behavior – focusing on the worst possible outcome, however unlikely, or thinking that a situation is unbearable or impossible when it is really just uncomfortable.[6][7]
  12. observed in abusers or manipulators to amplify or fabricate faults of the victim as a component of victim blaming - see also Hypercriticism.


A caricature can refer to a portrait that exaggerates or distorts the essence of a person or thing to create an easily identifiable visual likeness.[citation needed] In literature, a caricature is a description of a person using exaggeration of some characteristics and oversimplification of others.[8]

Caricatures can be insulting or complimentary and can serve a political purpose or be drawn solely for entertainment. Caricatures of politicians are commonly used in editorial cartoons, while caricatures of movie stars are often found in entertainment magazines.


Slapstick is a type of comedy involving exaggerated physical violence and activities which exceed the boundaries of common sense.[citation needed] These exaggerated depictions are often found in children's cartoons, and light film comedies aimed at younger audiences.


Overacting is the exaggeration of gestures and speech when acting. It may be unintentional, particularly in the case of a bad actor, or be required for the role. For the latter, it is commonly used in comical situations or to stress the evil characteristics of a villain. Since the perception of acting quality differs between people the extent of overacting can be subjective.

Paradoxical laughter

Paradoxical laughter is an exaggerated expression of humor which is unwarranted by external events. It may be uncontrollable laughter which may be recognised as inappropriate by the person involved.

Exaggeration metaphors

See also


  1. ""puff piece."". The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Houghton Mifflin Company. 1992. Retrieved 2006-07-22.
  2. Guerrero, L., Anderson, P., Afifi, W. (2007). Close Encounters: Communication in Relationships (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: Sage Publications.
  3. R. Rogers Clinical Assessment of Malingering and Deception 3rd Edition, Guilford, 2008. ISBN 1-59385-699-7
  4. Beth Azar All puffed up Monitor on Psychology June 2007, Vol 38, No. 6
  5. 5.0 5.1 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fourth edition Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR) American Psychiatric Association (2000)
  6. John M.Grohol; PsyD. "What is Catastrophizing? – Psych Central". Retrieved 1 March 2010.
  8. Caricature in literature

Further reading


  • Duttmann, AG; Phillips, J Philosophy of Exaggeration (Continuum Studies in Continental Philosophy) (2007)

Academic papers

  • Clayer, JR; Bookless, C; Ross, MW Neurosis and conscious symptom exaggeration: Its differentiation by the illness behaviour questionnaire Journal of Psychosomatic Research Volume 28, Issue 3, 1984, Pages 237-241
  • Demaree, HA; Schmeichel, BJ; Robinson, JL; Everhart, D. Erik Behavioural, affective, and physiological effects of negative and positive emotional exaggeration. Cognition and Emotion, Volume 18, Number 8, 2004, 1079-1097(19)
  • Masterson, J; Dunworth, R; Williams, N Extreme illness exaggeration in pediatric patients: A variant of Munchausen's by Proxy?. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. Vol 58(2), Apr 1988, 188-195.
  • McNicholas, F Slonims, V & Cass H Exaggeration of Symptoms or Psychiatric Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy? Child and Adolescent Mental Health 2003 Volume 5 Issue 2, Pages 69 - 75
  • Mittenberg, W; Patton, C; Canyock, EM; Condit, DC Base rates of malingering and symptom exaggeration. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology. Vol 24(8), Dec 2002, 1094-1102.
  • Mueller, J Simplicity and spook: Terrorism and the dynamics of threat exaggeration International Studies Perspectives, 2005
  • Pieper, WJ Exaggeration, puffery, inferential beliefs and deception in advertising - 1976 - University of South Carolina.
  • Sperling, OE Exaggeration as a Defense. Psychoanal Q., 32:553-548. (1963).

External links

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