People Can Be Tricked into Reversing Their Opinions on Morality

from Scientific American

People can be tricked into reversing their opinions on moral issues, even to the point of constructing good arguments to support the opposite of their original positions, researchers report today in PLoS ONE.

The researchers, led by Lars Hall, a cognitive scientist at Lund University in Sweden, recruited 160 volunteers to fill out a 2-page survey on the extent to which they agreed with 12 statements — either about moral principles relating to society in general or about the morality of current issues in the news, from prostitution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.

But the surveys also contained a ‘magic trick’. Each contained two sets of statements, one lightly glued on top of the other. Each survey was given on a clipboard, on the back of which the researchers had added a patch of glue. When participants turned the first page over to complete the second, the top set of statements would stick to the glue, exposing the hidden set but leaving the responses unchanged.

More here.

9 Responses to People Can Be Tricked into Reversing Their Opinions on Morality

  1. Brandon Cedeno January 23, 2015 at 3:38 pm #

    The article has a “Looney tunes” feel to it, because it almost seems this article shows that if people believe they are arguing against something, or in favor of something they immediately come up with defense arguments about it. It is interesting because people do not expect their answers to be change so when they see the answer they mark they seem to defend it. It is shocking how willing people were to change their views because they believed these to be their original views. I would be willing to bet that even someone that has read this article could still be subject to the trick so long as they are not expecting it.

  2. Valentina Reyes March 6, 2015 at 9:01 pm #

    Psychology is fascinating, not only because it can be manipulated, but because it gives away a lot about how a person thinks and how much effort they put into their thoughts. I do not think Hall tricked his subject so much as they cared little for the opinions they were giving. When one answers a question in the way one assumes it should be answered, it is very easy to become careless about the issue at hand. I would imagine, however that were the questions issues that the subjects were familiar with and felt very strongly about, they would realize whether they were arguing for or against them and what their answers actually revealed.
    We learn early on to give answers the way people expect to hear them as a way of our social contract. We learn to please others and to respond in ways that sound agreeable rather than combative or judgmental. This is part of the reason why we convince ourselves when we are giving answers that we are answering correctly by assenting. This, however, took it a step further and played with cognitive dissonance. I found this study to be quite intsighting and amusing

  3. Stephen Gallic November 13, 2015 at 8:45 pm #

    People can be tricked into changing their views on morality. According to the article by Lars Hall, “a cognitive scientist at Lund University in Sweden, recruited 160 volunteers to fill out a 2-page survey on the extent to which they agreed with 12 statements — either about moral principles relating to society in general or about the morality of current issues in the news, from prostitution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict.” But little to the participant’s knowledge a trick was played on them and the questions they were asked were modified. When asked to defend their position, “A full 53% of participants argued unequivocally for the opposite of their original attitude in at least one of the manipulated statements, the authors write. Hall and his colleagues have previously reported this effect, called ‘choice blindness.’” This choice blindness and moral persuasion arises many questions. Both to the quality of the test as it comes to the amount of people and questions asked, as well as, the implication of this persuasion in real life.
    As for the moral persuasion in real life all we must do is look to Nazi Germany or Isis. These situations have led to thousands of people supporting unethical and immoral practices they did not agree with. The business ethics term for this moral persuasion is locust of control. This is the phenomenon that when put in certain situations and circumstances a person of authority telling us to commit an unethical act makes it acceptable. This is clearly evident in Nazi Germany where one man and his organization expressed supreme authority and massacred thousands and thousands of people for unfathomable reasons. Reasons for this persuasion can be fear, compensation, bribery, false sense of security, or selfish reasons. But understanding how important a role locus of control played in the 2008 financial crisis can allow us to notice these situations and act in a proper manner. But many people or most people would unfortunately choose to listen to their superior and commit an unethical act they know is unethical. Until we mature enough as individuals this persuasion will continue to occur.

  4. Kevin A February 12, 2016 at 11:58 am #

    I found this experiment to be fascinating. The fact that people would actually change their opinions based off a small trick is amazing. The results showed that 50% of people are not observant and didn’t realize that the questions had changed. Although the experiment worked in the short term, I wonder what would happen if they gave the survey, with no trick, how people would answer. Maybe their opinion would stay the same as they intended when initially taking the survey or they would actually change entirely.
    In the end this experiment really peeked my interest, I’ve always found it interesting the way the human mind works and how people can be tricked just by changing one simple factor. But again to really prove what this experiment is really trying to accomplish I think there needs to be a follow up questionnaire given within a reasonable number of weeks. It just goes to show how the human mind works is rather complex and because of that, simple things can cause it to trip up.

  5. Felicia Benjamin March 11, 2016 at 7:29 pm #

    This experiment would be very interesting to observe with politicians and public speaking officials. However, I am disappointed that this occurred because it is a prime example of the abuse people can inflict upon themselves as a result of laziness. If they had fully read the questions on the second page they would have probably answered differently. With that said, I don’t understand how individuals came up with different explanations for things they did not agree with. If you believe and support something, you should be able to see when your viewpoint has been manipulated. While, the article suggests that this is a step in the right direction to an open minded society, I believe this is the most obvious hindrance to an efficient society. It would have been a more understandable scenario if the experiment administers were informing participants of new alarming data which could have influenced a change of heat, compared to what actually happened. I do not believe that one change of one word can influence someone’s core values. I think this may be due to the fact that many of our choices are made for us. Society and legislation dictate what we can do, and thus what we do and do not believe. Also there are many other external factors such as upbringing, religion, heritage, and culture that influence our beliefs and actions, so maybe we don’t truly have our own moral beliefs. Instead, we subliminally comply with moral expectations.

    An open minded society that the article suggests would be an optimistic step in the right direction towards ensuring equality for all citizens. However, this can only be accomplished if we are willing to hear all sides of the story, but have a strong sense of self to distinguish between a valid argument and foolishness. The main reason why society is under turmoil as different groups fight for equality is because the large majority is unwilling to accommodate the minority. The powerful group that is able to fix the exigence, deems adequate gripes as foolishness using culture and religion as justification for horrific actions, in the most extreme cases. In order to reach an enlightening epiphany, there must be intense dialogue, thought provoking arguments, higher level questions, and most important valid claims. To grow as a society, members of society need to gain interest in listening to what the other party has to say. Open minded debate results in understanding and growth, therefore an open minded society would be a step in the right direction to fixing current abuses that currently exist in society.

    Open minded people seek knowledge, which is a step in the right direction to improving society to enhance it to its full potential. Open minded people listen to others, and acquire various sources of information before passing judgement on others. They seeks answers by drawing conclusions, not assuming. There is a distinct difference between connecting the dots using factual information and context clues, compared to making false speculations based on pre-assumed ideas and negative stereotypes. This is why the title of the article, was very eye catching. However, the content was misleading and disappointing, which made it less believable and upsetting to consider. People need to become more vigilant about their surroundings in order to know when things “don’t smell right”. These 160 people need to open their eyes, so that people cannot manipulate them. I will reiterate my confusion as to how someone can let someone else trick them into believing something that contradicts their core values. Now it is something simple, but in the future similar situations can test their credibility and integrity.

    PSA: Don’t Allow Yourself to be Tricked !

  6. Liz Martinez April 3, 2016 at 10:33 am #

    Just the title of this article caught my attention the second I saw it. After reading, I found that it was extremely shocking how many people didn’t even notice their own opinion having been altered. It just seems so outlandish. Especially because of the nature of these questions. It wasn’t like they were being asked which flavor of ice-cream is better, or which store in the mall was better, they were asked serious political questions and switched their answers completely to the opposite of what they viewed as correct. The fact that they were able to spit out counter arguments after that was all the more surprising.
    I would like to see what would happen if after this survey was done, these same one hundred and sixty people were asked much simpler opinion based questions, to see if they would deliver the same response after having their answers changed. From my perspective, the reason that this was able to take place, may have had a lot to do with the somewhat foggy aspect of politics that helps to cloud our judgement. Most rational people (and hopefully most rational voters) tend to look at arguments which seem potentially complex or convoluted from more than one perspective. This helps to explain why these people were so easily able to switch their perspective, because most likely, they don’t have very strong views on the topic to begin with.
    That being said, I think it would be quite comical to see if many people who didn’t notice a change in political views were able to discern a change in their ice-cream flavor preference. The reason being, that ice-cream flavors are extremely specific, very simple to question people about, and is something that many people have decided firmly on back when they were young children. You could even simplify this experiment further, by asking them to simply choose a flavor preference, like chocolate or vanilla. You could look at the results of these two surveys, and then go more in depth with the questioning, by asking what particular brand of chocolate or vanilla ice-cream was the best, and when is the best time to eat it (after dinner, on a beach in the afternoon, when you do something good (like getting a good grade on your blog comments) etc.)
    I liked this article, because it was written clearly and made sense. I was interested in the subject matter, but would prefer to see this particular experiment repeated a few more times so the percentages could be seen more accurately. I would also like it if this particular experiment was used to teach lessons in schools. This is because in this day and age, we really need to be aware of what we say, and especially aware of our own personal beliefs. Having a weak or easily manipulated mind is what can help lead people down bad paths of terror and destruction, when there is really no logical cause. Obviously everything in life is not logic based, and I’m not saying that it should be, but there is some use in knowing what you sand for, and where to draw the line. Just for personal growth if nothing else.

  7. Steven C February 9, 2018 at 10:36 pm #

    Ethics has always been a topic of discussion but seems to never have a right answer. In this case the article “People Can Be Tricked into Reversing Their Opinions on Morality” by Zoë Corbyn goes to talk about and show the technique used to challenge peoples own beliefs. The way this was done was a survey was given to people and the first set of questions on page one were answered the way they felt and when they turned to answer page two the page one questions would stick to the clip board exposing the hidden set of questions with the responses being unchanged. The hidden set of questions would have minor alterations to the question but it would change the entire meaning of the question there for making your response the opposite of what you originally answered. The article talks about how half of the participants did not notice the changes and a little over that half accepted the changes to the questions. Experts talked about how this study could be used to change the way surveys are taken but I think that this exposes a great way to manipulate surveys into your favor, which would ultimately not capture the true feeling of the people taking these surveys. Other experts said that they would like to use this study on a bigger and more diverse group of people and see the results.
    I do not believe this study was a great way to fully understand that people change their moral and ethical decisions based on a party trick with pieces of paper on a survey sticking to the clip board. It is easy to say what you think you would do in a situation that challenges your morals or ethics but no one truly knows their own morals or ethics until they are put in a compromising situation which really tests their values. Other than that I don’t think you can get a read for a person’s ethics or morals from surveys or just my talking about it. Ethics also depends greatly on what that individuals goals and what they are willing to do to achieve those goals. With that being said I truly believe that people have a foundation of values that help steer them towards their ethical and moral decisions when it comes to their choices big or small. Overall I was not a fan of this article or the study that was conducted. I think that the results are misleading and the title of the article was misleading. I did not think anything in this article actually showed the compromising factors which lead people to truly change their view on a problem.

  8. Keara Prystash February 12, 2019 at 7:09 pm #

    When I first read the title of this blog post by Professor Shannon it immediately sounded familiar and like something I had learned in a psychology class previously. It did make me wonder however, how this research or knowledge was gathered and if in fact this “trick” could be seen positively.
    The survey itself that was completed randomly selected 160 volunteers walking through a park in Sweden and asked those volunteers to circle how much they agreed or disagreed with certain statements, relating to basic morals and more newsworthy events. At this point I had some questions as the study was done in 2012. I wondered what types of questions would be asked now and if the responses would potentially be stronger in regards to certain topics such as politics for example, or if the study was moved to another country such as the United States. Moving on, the part that truly intrigued me was how the researchers implemented the magic trick within their study by placing glue on the clipboard of the surveys that would alter the questions without altering their responses showed when the researcher reviewed their responses with certain volunteers. I believe that many of these volunteers must have been shocked or confused when they were reviewing it with the researcher but, at the same time I’m sure some did not read closely or actually validated their responses even more prior to being debriefed.
    The survey and their responses truly show how open or unopen the human mind can be to certain opinions, changes or ideas. I do think from a research point that doing a longitudinal study with these folks who initially completed it would be valuable to in order to further prove or disprove if morals and ethics truly do change over the years.

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