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Poll* questions if phrased in a way to suggest a fact to the reader, may force the person to think of explanations to support the view expressed in the question. This belief may then last on its own because of belief perseverance.

For example, if a poll ask questions of the form :

How do you think 90% of people behave in {situation}?

or, political questions

Which party do you believe is trusted by over 70% of the voters? Options:{Plausible Party A} {Small unknown party B}

Or from the opposition party,

Which party do people relate to when thinking of corruption? Options: {Ruling Party} {Small unknown party}

Or, another of the commercial flavour,

Which company comes to the mind of 70% of the people when they think of clean water? Options : {Big company A} {Small unknown company B}

By choosing options wisely, the poll creator can force certain ideas into the minds of individuals under the banner of "popular opinion" without them even realising it. By trying to rationalise why or how the most likely option is correct, individuals giving the poll will essentially think up of or create evidence. This will then further reinforce and plant the suggested idea with varying degrees of permanence.

So, does the concept of belief permanence thus imply (as explained above) that polls can be used to plant incorrect ideas/information in people?

Also, can polls thereby be an effective marketing technique for companies and/or political parties when trying to shape public opinion?

By poll, I mean any form of interaction which involves Q&A with or without the provision of correct feedback at the end. I do not mean only elections or opinion polls.

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There certainly seems to be an assumption among those who make/use polls that their results can create belief perseverance; it seems not illogical to think this would extend to taking the poll alone. I'm looking forward to the answers on this one! –  Krysta Aug 30 '13 at 13:10
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Yes, when I find myself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect - Mark Twain –  Randy Aug 30 '13 at 16:57

1 Answer 1

Can asking a leading question in a poll change the opinion of the respondent?

Yes, apparantly everyone is susceptible to leading questions.

Conside rable attention has been devoted to suggestive questions and its effects. Experimental research by Elizabeth F. Loftus, an American psychologist and an expert on human memory, has established that trying to answer such questions can create confabulation in eyewitnesses.[8] Loftus conducted and experiment where participants all viewed the same video clip of a car crash. Participants were then assigned at random in one of two groups. Group one was asked, "How fast was the car moving when it passed by the stop sign?" The participants in the other group are asked a similar question that does not refer to a stop sign. The results showed participants from the first group are more likely to remember seeing a stop sign in the video clip, even though there was in fact no such sign.[9] Elizabeth Loftus stated that everyone is affected by suggestive questioning, and it comes from environmental factors instead of innate factors, meaning that everyone is affected by suggestive questioning.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suggestive_question

Less educated people are more affected:

One of the most common formats used in survey questions is the “agree-disagree” format. In this type of question, respondents are asked whether they agree or disagree with a particular statement. Research has shown that, compared with the better educated and better informed, less educated and less informed respondents have a greater tendency to agree with such statements. This is sometimes called an “acquiescence bias” (since some kinds of respondents are more likely to acquiesce to the assertion than are others). A better practice is to offer respondents a choice between alternative statements. A Pew Research Center experiment with one of its routinely asked values questions illustrates the difference that question format can make. Not only does the forced choice format yield a very different result overall from the agree-disagree format, but the pattern of answers among better- and lesser-educated respondents also tends to be very different.

http://www.pewresearch.org/methodology/u-s-survey-research/questionnaire-design/

Children are the most susceptible:

Children are particularly susceptible to leading questions and are more likely to take the lead for an answer from an adult. Something simple like, ‘Did you have a good day at school?’ points the child towards thinking about good things that happened at school. By asking, ‘How was school today?’ you are not asking for any judgement about how good or bad the day has been and you are more likely to get a more balanced, accurate answer. This can shape the rest of the conversation, the next question may be, ‘What did you do at school?’ - the answer to this may vary based on the first question you asked – good things or just things. http://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/question-types.html

Examples of leading questions:

  • With an assumption: "How late do you think that the project will deliver?". This assumes that the project will certainly not be completed on time.
  • By adding a personal appeal to agree at the end: "Lori's very efficient, don't you think?" or "Option 2 is better, isn't it?"
  • Phrasing the question so that the "easiest" response is "yes" (our natural tendency to prefer to say "yes" than "no" plays an important part in the phrasing of referendum questions): "Shall we all approve Option 2?" is more likely to get a positive response than "Do you want to approve option 2 or not?". A good way of doing this is to make it personal. For example, "Would you like me to go ahead with Option 2?" rather than "Shall I choose Option 2?".
  • Giving people a choice between two options, both of which you would be happy with, rather than the choice of one option or not doing anything at all. Strictly speaking, the choice of "neither" is still available when you ask "Which would you prefer of A or B", but most people will be caught up in deciding between your two preferences.

http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMC_88.htm

A humourous example of the phenomenon can be found in the British sitcom Yes Prime Minister:

http://mktresearch.org/wiki/Ordering_the_Questions_in_the_Questionnaire

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