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In Defense of Hypocrisy

If you were asked about a moral issue, say prostitution or illegal immigration, and were then asked about it again a few moments later, would you hold the same belief? You might think so, but new research from Sweden shows there's not only a good chance that you will change your mind, but that you will vehemently defend the very opposite of the position you reported merely moments ago.

The authors used a questionnaire to ask people about various moral principles and politically-sensitive issues. A scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 9 (strongly agree) was used, with 5 representing neutrality. However, there was a trick. A couple of the questions were manipulated using a "stage magic" trick that fooled the volunteer into filling out the exact opposite viewpoint. For instance, if the volunteer disagreed with illegal immigration, he (unbeknownst to him) filled out that he supported illegal immigration. shutterstock_112891561 copy.jpg

And now, the fun part: In a follow-up interview, conducted moments later, the volunteers were asked about their answers to the questionnaire. What the authors found is stunning: 69% of volunteers didn't notice that their answer had been reversed, and, according to the authors, "a full 53% of the participants argued unequivocally for the opposite of their original attitude."

This study brings up several (rather disturbing) points: First, what is the value of conducting surveys if people can literally change their mind -- and argue against their original position -- moments after taking it? Second, is there any real value to research that is based on surveys? (A substantial proportion of social science research is based on surveys.) Third, what does this say about our "deeply held" moral beliefs, if they can be so easily discarded and manipulated?

It is worth noting that Jeremy Lott, a friend and colleague, once wrote a book called In Defense of Hypocrisy. And that was long before this study was released.

Source: Hall L, Johansson P, Strandberg T (2012) Lifting the Veil of Morality:

Choice Blindness and Attitude Reversals on a Self-Transforming Survey.

PLoS ONE 7(9):

e45457.

doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0045457

(Survey image via Shutterstock)

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