Study Shows Question and Answer Research Approaches Are Questionable

October 1, 2012

More information about manipulation has been revealed through a tricky study in Sweden, according to “How to Confuse a Moral Compass” on Nature, the weekly, international, interdisciplinary journal of science. The study asked volunteers to fill out a survey on which they answered a level of agreement to statements about morality. A “trick” revealed hidden, opposite statements to participants after their original responses were recorded, which they were then asked to defend. Surprisingly, most participants did not detect the changes and many accepted the changed statements and even defended them.

Lars Hall, the lead researcher on the study, commented on the results:

“‘I don’t feel we have exposed people or fooled them,’ says Hall. ‘Rather this shows something otherwise very difficult to show, [which is] how open and flexible people can actually be.’

The study raises questions about the validity of self-report questionnaires, says Hall. The results suggest that standard surveys ‘are not good at capturing the complexity of the attitudes people actually hold’, he says, adding that the switching technique could be used to improve opinion surveys in the future.”

This study definitely brings about questions about whether question and answer approaches to information retrieval can be trusted. People’s opinions are often fleeting and moral compasses are not stagnant, and this study proves that people can even be tricked into reversing their opinions on moral issues. We think researchers should consider these things when referring to data based on self-report questionnaires.

Andrea Hayden, October 01, 2012

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