Deep Convictions, Shallow Roots.

(Being an English edit of a column that appeared in Nowa Fantaskyka a few months back)

You’ll remember that I recently returned from a trip to Sweden. While I was there, by a curious coincidence, I happened to read a Swedish study from the Public Library of Science: “Lifting the Veil of Morality: Choice Blindness and Attitude Reversals on a Self-Transforming Survey,” by Hall, Johansson, and Strandberg.

Their results are, shall we say, provocative.

Apparently, illegal immigration is a hot-button issue in Sweden. Hall et al decided to push those buttons during a series of person-on-the-street interviews. You know the type: someone hands you a questionnaire, asks you to rate a series of statements along a 9-point scale where 1 means completely disagree, 9 means completely agree, and 5 means couldn’t give a shit. There were subtleties — some questions were phrased in terms of general principles, others in terms of specific examples — but basically the survey came down to things like It is morally deplorable to harbor illegal immigrants (agree or no?)

Here’s the tricky bit: after a respondent had checked off the numbered boxes, the researchers surreptitiously swapped out that part of the form with a lookalike that reversed the questions (so that morally deplorable became morally honorable, for example). People who hated the harboring of illegals were now on record as loving it, and vice-versa. The questionnaire was then returned to the hapless subject, who was asked to write a brief argument supporting their position.

Fully a third of those who’d registered the most extreme positions — 1 or 9 on the scale — didn’t even notice that their opinions had just magically changed 180°. Not only that, but they went on to construct arguments supporting the exact opposite of what they’d just claimed to strongly believe, effectively enough to convince a blind panel of judges as to their sincerity. And that was only the extremists; if you included those with more moderate leanings a full 69% of the respondents whole-heartedly accepted the turnabout without missing a beat1.

Really? It’s that easy?

I could go to an Operation Rescue meeting in the USA, hand out trick questionnaires to a roomful of rabid anti-abortion activists— and a third of them would spin on that dime and claim to be pro-choice, that they’d always been pro-choice?

Really?

Sheer gut-level incredulity makes you want to be really skeptical of these results. Even I don’t want to believe that people can be that stupid. So we could start by criticizing the sample size, a  modest 160. Or we could talk about cultural constraints: the study was limited to Sweden, and the Swedes are (in my limited experience) far less prone to the kind of religion-fueled batshit insanity that ignites so many hot-button issues in the US. One can accept that these results apply to one group while still doubting that they’d generalize to a population of delusional fanatics. (Or even among those who are just more actively engaged. Respondents who described themselves as “politically active” were especially likely to detect the reversal— to be “rejecters” instead of “accepters”, in the parlance of the study.)

But you know, N=160 is nothing to sneeze at; if the size of Hall et al‘s sample had been wanting, well, that’s why we have statistics, and according to the stats these findings are significant. And the researchers did choose a politically-contentious issue to survey, so those filling out the form were likely to both be familiar with the issue and to have firmly-established opinions about it. Hall et al‘s’ measure of “acceptance” for a reversed result was very forgiving, too; respondents were encouraged to express doubts or reservations (So, nothing about this study felt kind of odd to you? Nothing at all?), right up to being explicitly shown how they’d been tricked. Even then, if they claimed to remember feeling even the teensiest bit doubtful during the survey, they were let off the hook and reclassified as “rejectors”.

Finally, while political activism may have been correlated with detecting the reversal, simple extremism was not: absolutist 1 and 9 respondents were no less likely to be fooled than the more moderate fours and sixes. You might infer from this that while informed opinion is relatively hard to shake, people whose opinions are both extreme and ignorant are especially easy to reprogram — and that demographic is huge enough to affect the outcome of pretty much any election.

Let’s put aside, for the moment, the fact that this runs counter to everything I’ve ever experienced when dealing with ignorant extremists in North America. Let’s play devil’s advocate, and ask:  why shouldn’t these results be valid? They’re utterly consistent with the haphazard way our brains parse reality. Distracted for a moment, we don’t notice that the person we were just talking to has been replaced by someone else. Watching a circle of people throwing balls back and forth, we don’t notice a guy in a gorilla suit waving at us from the center of our visual field. Buildings pop into and out of existence during any number of perceptual experiments; most of the time, we just don’t see it happen. Why would the perception of our inner thoughts be any more reliable than that of the physical world outside our eyeballs?

Hall et al worry about the implications. They fear that the flimsiness of so-called “strong beliefs” might compromise the very idea of Public Opinion, that without taking such effects into account the whole polling-industrial complex might be founded on shifting sand. My own fears are more proximal. I’m not worried about whether people could correct for these effects; I’m worried about people using them. What state or corporation could resist the urge to take such an easy shortcut? Instead of trying to sell the public on your product, just make them believe they’re already sold on it. Instead of campaigning to win over the hearts and minds of the electorate, why not just commission a quick phone survey to make a good chunk of them realize they’ve already been won?

Scary doesn’t begin to cover the proposition.

I mean, I don’t know what I’d do if someone tried to subvert my deep and abiding love for Jesus Christ, my personal Lord and Savior.

 


1Even those who did notice the difference didn’t realize that the questionnaire had been altered. They just assumed that they’d misread the question the first time around.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Monday December 17 2012at 12:12 pm , filed under sentience/cognition . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

30 Responses to “Deep Convictions, Shallow Roots.”

  1. That blows my mind!!

  2. LW discussion: http://lesswrong.com/lw/elg/new_study_on_choice_blindness_in_moral_positions/

  3. If we’re trying to find reasonable (hah) explanations for this, maybe people weren’t parsing the negative in the statement “It is morally deplorable to harbor illegal immigrants” correctly? If I was in a hurry I could easily see myself reversing the intended meaning. Then negating the statement would actually mean it stayed the same…

  4. I’ll bet this only works in individual contexts. I.e., no you couldn’t do it at a Flat Earth convention.

    In isolation of the tribal reinforcement, though, I find it (disconcertingly) plausible.

  5. This is scary, but I must admit it isn’t all that surprising. I’ve caught myself doing the same thing on surveys, and even in other contexts — looking back at my previously stated opinions so as to remember where I am supposed to stand on an issue. Guess I’m not as strange as I thought…

  6. Interesting…are people changing their opinions or managing a social situation full of public embarrassment ?

  7. Sometimes I wonder if we should just beat them to the punch. Head to the Young Libertarians meeting and do a rigged survey experiment on environmental issues.

  8. These guys also did a choice blindness paper on tea and jam preferences in a marketplace using sleight of hand to give customers different flavors back as the samples to take home.

    choice blindness group. lots of pdfs

    I want to see what all they can vary and how much the blindness sticks.

    Cost/risk of a choice. Time to make a choice. Expertise of the person making a choice (a chess move by a chess master, a choice about an art project by the artist, a choice about a cancer diagnosis)

    Maybe with more risk, more cost, or more expertise there would be less choice blindness.

  9. I think I would have missed the changes, or assumed I misunderstood the question if I noticed (I’m always afraid I’m filling out surveys in the opposite direction, for example).

    Here’s the text from Table 1.

    Original Principle
    Reversed Principle

    It is more important for a society to protect the personal integrity of its citizens than to promote their welfare
    It is more important for a society to promote the welfare of its citizens than to protect their personal integrity

    Even if an action might harm the innocent, it can still be morally permissible to perform it
    If an action might harm the innocent, then it is not morally permissible to perform it

    What is morally permissible ought to be similar between different societies and cultures
    What is morally permissible ought to vary between different societies and cultures

    To be moral is to follow the rules and regulations of the society, rather than weighing the positive and negative consequences of one’s actions
    To be moral is to weigh the positive and negative consequences of one’s actions, regardless of the rules and regulations of the society

    Original Issue
    Reversed Issue

    Large scale governmental surveillance of e-mail and Internet traffic ought to be forbidden as a means to combat international crime and terrorism.
    Large scale governmental surveillance of e-mail and Internet traffic ought to be permitted as a means to combat international crime and terrorism.

    The violence Israel used in the conflict with Hamas is morally defensible despite the civilian casualties suffered by the Palestinians.
    The violence Israel use in the conflict with Hamas is morally reprehensible because of the civilian casualties suffered by the Palestinians.

    It is morally defensible to purchase sexual services in democratic societies where prostitution is legal and regulated by the government
    It is morally reprehensible to purchase sexual services in democratic societies where prostitution is legal and regulated by the government

    It is morally deplorable to harbor immigrants when they have been declared illegal and scheduled to return to their home country by the Swedish government
    It is morally commendable to harbor immigrants when they have been declared illegal and scheduled to return to their home country by the Swedish government

  10. Interesting… I can’t help thinking that these results say more about social pressure and public embarrassment avoidance strategies than they do about changeable beliefs, though…

  11. And…I could not see my earlier comment when I commented AGAIN. Sorry for the repetition…

  12. From the “discussion” section in the study:

    For all we know, had the participants not been debriefed at the end of the experiments, the attitudes we registered in the manipulation trials might had lived on to become persistent features of their ideology.

    I gave the study only a fairly fast reading, but this remark was striking, in my opinion. What if a lot of people hold certain beliefs, but haven’t ever actually thought much about those beliefs? If that’s the case, thinking about it enough to offer an opinion on the 1-9 scale might have set the whole set of beliefs into flux, so to speak. Uncertainty is added and things become less of actual “deeply held convictions” and become more of a topic of debate, where one is willing to take either side of it and argue either or each side on the purported or perceived merits? Maybe folks who hadn’t had much of an opinion, or had simply been expressing an opinion which they’d internalized without much thought on the matter, didn’t have any real investment in self-checking their self-attribution?

    Otherwise, still unclear to me is in which language this survey was conducted. If it was Swedes being surveyed in English, I can easily understand some lack of clarity. If it was in Swedish, I don’t know the language enough to know if it’s easy to state opposing opinions with such ambiguity that people can’t easily distinguish between them, and thus feel okay to agree with either since they aren’t (as it were) clear cut opposites.

    @Peter, nice to see that you’ve joined the flock! :-D

    (maybe someone should hack the site and alter your statement and ask if that (the new opposite statement) is how you really feel…)

  13. DTLHS,

    Keep in mind that the original questions would be in Swedish, not English.

  14. Yukon Val,

    There is an easy way to find out – repeat the experiment.

  15. Elaborating on what Mr Non-Entity said, I’d like to do some logical nitpicking.

    The pair

    1) Even if an action might harm the innocent, it can still be morally permissible to perform it
    2) If an action might harm the innocent, then it is not morally permissible to perform it

    is very tricky. I agree with both, because in everyday language, rules are not assumed to be completely without exception. (Sentence 2 states a rule and sentence 1 that it can have exceptions.)

    The questions about issues are even worse: The negation of “morally defensible” is not “morally reprehensible”! A lot of what is reprehensible can be defended some way or other.

    Does somebody know if the problem is just a translation issue? Do we have access to the raw data (I didn’t found it skimming the article.), I’d like to see for example if people saying yes to 1 are more likely not to spot the inversion, since saying “yes” to both 1 and 2 makes more sense than saying “no” to both.

  16. Looking at the questions, I think this was mostly a parsing problem, and the people thought they were reading the same question again.

  17. Tickli has it right, I think, when sie[1] says (in part):

    The pair

    1) Even if an action might harm the innocent, it can still be morally permissible to perform it
    2) If an action might harm the innocent, then it is not morally permissible to perform it

    is very tricky. I agree with both, because in everyday language, rules are not assumed to be completely without exception. (Sentence 2 states a rule and sentence 1 that it can have exceptions.)

    The questions about issues are even worse: The negation of “morally defensible” is not “morally reprehensible”! A lot of what is reprehensible can be defended some way or other.

    That bit about one sentence being a rule and the other being a statement that the rule can have exceptions, that’s a rather slippery fish, but you certainly caught it. It had slipped right through my net, so to speak.

    If we were to look through this study, and were to find that the substitutions which were handed back to the survey “magic trick” victims, were substitutions of statements of rule being replaced by statements of exceptions to rules, that might perhaps point to people being willing to justify that they thought that they had picked the statement of exceptions rather than the rule itself, because they didn’t want to be dogmatic nor absolutist.

    So it would be less of an indicator that they had changed their minds and now felt bound by that, but rather that they had originally felt flexible but had decided to make a more definitive statement of the rule rather than that the rule can have exceptions… yet didn’t remember that.

    This is worrisome in itself, but less worrisome than the idea that anyone will flip-flop their moral positions on the basis of a revisionist fabrication provided by sleight-of-hand. Maybe the study only shows that people are willing to “waffle” (to go back and forth, more or less; to prevaricate) and to justify their waffling, if it really is the case that they only would accept revisionism when it seemed to show that they had originally chosen a statement of exceptions existing to rules, rather than truly actually having chosen a statement off the rule rather than of the exceptions.

    If that latter were the case, it might tend to explain the people who were active in the issues under discussion who tended to notice the substitution.

    Apologies if that wasn’t well written, taking strange meds at the moment.

    (Footnotes: 1. “sie” being a gender-neutral third person used when it’s not known or perhaps not possible to know the gender of a third-person. Etymology, UseNet news:alt.gothic ; see also “hir” as possessive in comparable circumstances.)

  18. Hmm, that’s rather disturbing in a lot of ways. Though, I could definitely see it as a social pressure thing, as others have mentioned. Similar to the corporate meeting where, paraphrased, “What, that idea? No, I never thought that was a good idea, of course it failed!” occurs (when often, they’d be the origin of said idea).

    On a completely unrelated note though, when do you think you’ll be getting those advance manuscripts of the sidequel to Blindsight to us, your loyal blog followers? You know, like you promised… In that now deleted post… From months ago…

    *cough*

    ;)

  19. OK, here’s why these results shouldn’t be taken seriously.

    The unquestioned assumption in this study (and most similar ones) is that those giving the test are smarter than those taking it, and therefore that the responses are all genuine because they would notice if the respondents were just trying to piss them off or see what they could get away with.

    Since this wasn’t an election, job interview, or similar where the results might have actual consequences; I think it quite likely that the people answering treated it as an abstract game. “Argue in favour of my position? What did I tick anyway? Oh, must have been this one.”

  20. All very easily explained by this clip from the classic British 80’s comedy/satire “Yes, Prime Minister”, which is far too clever for its own good.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G0ZZJXw4MTA

  21. It is well known that the same question worded in a different fashion can result in a different answer. For example, “It is morally deplorable to harbor illegal immigrants” has two very strong negatives; deplorable and illegal. Whereas, “It is morally honourable to harbor illegal immigrants” has a negative and a positive.

    I can see myself agreeing to the first one, thinking that it is talking about harboring a criminal, but also agreeing with the second statement, thinking that it is talking about harboring a refugee.

  22. Eh, I suspect they aren’t measuring what they think they are measuring. Too many confounds, maybe?

    Thanks, Sheila, for the actual (translated) language of the paired questions. Very enlightening. I have to go with Tickli and Mr Non-Entity – the pairs are poorly constructed, hence, tricky to parse, probably leading to poor differentiation of the questions. And I have to agree with Hugh that many respondents were probably actually “5 – don’t give a shit” about the test itself. Sure, what did I pick? I did? Eh, I can defend that.

    Consider that moral self-report is notoriously wishy-washy and disconnected from what the subject would actually do. And action is where Mr Rubber meets Mr. Road in morality; good intentions don’t count for much.

    Interesting concept.

  23. I lean toward authoritrianism. The surveyor’s power over people who take extreme positions is strong because the extreme answer was given out of a desire to conform. Once it is revealed that the person conducting the tests wanted answer X, the testees sighed relief that they either inadvertently answered “correct” or that their “noncompliance” went unnoticed.

    I’ve seen this same principle in the corporate world. EVP says to open a meeting “We are going to pursue product/service XYZ as the key to our FUTURE success” and everyone throws out whatever they prepared and pretends they’ve been actively pursuing XYZ to the exclusion of all else since the Big Bang.

    I have often wondered how such a species capable of mass self-deception survived this long. I think it has to do with it sometimes being an asset to lie to oneself and to there being a greater fault-tolerance for lack of fitness than perhaps Darwin thought.

  24. @Whoever: What astonishes me, in terms of people’s willingness to accept or engage in things near to revisionism, is how far people will go in the exercise of “rationalization”, or of finding excuses for whatever orders come down from the top. That people are “just following orders” in the pursuit of kinder-gentler lawbreaking doesn’t excuse it any more than it should be accepted if the end result were atrocity.

    At the risk of alienating even more people here, I must admit that for some 15 years I was a very prolific writer on UseNet (and elsewhere) seeking more aggressive[1] US interior enforcement of immigration law, as well as more secure borders, particularly hoping to stem a tide of over a successful million illegal entrants per year arriving mostly overland and mostly assisted by transnational criminal corporations operating via Mexico.

    Rationalization can be extremely bizarre in the results, especially when it’s partisan policy being exerted from near the top downwards throughout bureaucracies. On the one hand, dangerous Canadians such as Our Gracious Host are banned for life due to questioning the tone of officer “requests” at immigration checkpoints, and being Canadian, the idea of illegal entry probably is one of those thoughts one simply doesn’t long entertain. On the other hand, in my local political arena, construction contractors vastly benefiting from cheap labor operating outside of the social contract (insurance and other legal benefits) have spread around enough money to allow the formation of a variety of “worker protection solidarity organizations”, which are basically labor-rackets as seen at the docks of major US ports throughout the 1930s, nice guys in suits with law degrees on one facet of the gem, with all of the other facets being very hard and sharp and pointy.

    Rationalization allows career police officers to declare that “these are the workers who do the work nobody else will do” (having worked construction and having dug ditches and hauled junk, I find this personally insulting to be told I don’t exist and am a slacker, to boot) and thus to justify complete inaction on shutting down “pick up corners” where a ready pool of illegal labor doesn’t just stand around displacing the local day-labor pool, they also tithe for “security” provided by the “solidarity organization” which also is one of the major funding lobbyist groups for local political campaign chests. Rationalization allows these career officers to be “just following orders” and expend their efforts on traffic stops and drug investigations rather than deal with beating and denial of opportunity for locals to work, all at the hands of well-organized foreign gangsters. Rationalization also allows the locals to hire day labor from the labor-racket pool, and then crying about how the police aren’t doing enough about gangsters, when it’s the locals hiring foreign day-labor which puts operating funds in the gangsters’ pockets. Rationalization even allows the locals to agitate for blanket amnesty, on the theory that the problem isn’t excess supply of labor in a downturned economy that has almost no need for construction nor for unskilled labor, actually (they rationalize) all of these problems stem from the inequities of unscrupulous employers exploiting the downtrodden “guest workers”. I agree with the last part of that last phrase, but I don’t see how the first part follows from the second.

    I don’t mean to try to troll out a discussion of illegal immigration, gangsterism and labor-rackets and undue influence on politicians seeking campaign funding, but I do mean to point out that if the authors of the study were trying to find a subject more rife with massive moral ambiguity and inherent opportunity for rationalization to flourish, I don’t think they could have found anything more inviting as a “grey area”, a place where there are no clear-cut lines and any Venn diagrams are airbrushed in pale pastels rather than drawn with engineer’s drafting pens in heavy ink.

    I personally could easily defend the moral propriety of harboring an illegal alien, so long as it was Peter Watts, because I can rationalize that the Customs officer who got him dragged into court (without sufficient legal representation) and banned from entry was a dung-bathing troglodyte and besides, even if I don’t like Canadian cooking enough to sneak him in to open a Poutinerie I certainly think the States would benefit from him giving talks to the immense biotech professional audience in my area, quite a lot of whom have their own immigration issues. Then again, true as this all might be, it’s still rationalizing. The moral hard-line is more to the effect of “I don’t care about nationality, the law is the law, and if the Swedish Bikini Team overstays their visas, put overcoats on them and ship them out on the next flight to Stockholm”. Probably most people, the males anyways, would prefer to harbor them in their own bedrooms if necessary (or possible). But would they do the same for Bolivian construction laborers? Isn’t it racist, or culturalist, or sexist or some other kind of “-ist” to rationalize one moral failure as preferable to another?

    As suggested elsewhere (Hljóðlegur), I think this study has far too many confounds to be useful for the purposes it claims. The issues are far too hot-button and the wording appears to be too weaseling. Yet it may be yet-another unintentional in support of the notion that people are generally far too willing to be extremely fuzzy in their thinking or feelings about moral issues.

    Footnotes:
    1. I should point out that the Obama Administration, hopey-feeley as it otherwise may seem, has engaged the “Secure Communities” program so aggressively that they’ve rounded up and deported illegal aliens with criminal histories[2] at a rate with scope and scale unseen since the Eisenhower Administration.
    2. Hopefully they’re more concerned with axe-murdering traffickers in human cargo than they would be with SF writers.

  25. haven’t had a chance to fully participate in this discussion due to being on vacation with limited internet access. and kind of too lazy today to catch up on all the pdfs from the authors’ lab page. but, I’m skimming and I want to point to discussion as to whether the person’s stated preferences change.

    Johansson, L., Hall, L., & Chater, N. (2011). Preference change through choice. In R. Dolan & T. Sharot (Eds.) (2011). Neuroscience of Preference and Choice. Elsevier Academic Press. pp. 121-141. pdf

    […]
    In our case, the questions concerned salient issues from the election cam- paign where the left- and the right-wing coalition held opposite positions (with a focus on traditional issues in the conservative-socialist divide, such as taxation and privatization).
    The people who agreed to participate started by indicating their cur- rent voting intention for the election at the coalition-level, and then they proceeded to mark their opinion on our 12 statement election compass.
    […]
    The critical concern now is whether this induced preference reversal managed to leap across the attitude–behavior gap, and impinge on real- world behavior (remember, this is immersed in a live campaign only a few weeks before the election, where stated voter intentions correlate extremely well with actual voting, see Holmberg & Oscarsson, 2004). What we found was that, compared to the initial voting intention, 10% of our participants moved across the full ideological span, and switched their voting intention from firmly right-wing to firmly left-wing. A fur- ther 22% went from expressing unequivocal coalition support (left or right), to becoming entirely undecided, and 3% went from being unde- cided to having a clear voter intention. In addition, 10% of the partici- pants recorded substantial movement in the manipulated direction along the confidence scale – moving from “absolutely sure” to “moderately sure.” If we add to this that around 12% of participants were undecided both before and after the experiment (a figure roughly corresponding to the category of undecided voters in the traditional opinion polls), we end up with a figure of more than half of all participants being open for movement across the great partisan divide (“in play” as the pollsters would say), a figure dramatically different from the expectations of polit- ical scientist, pollsters, party campaign strategists, and not least the vot- ers themselves.
    […]

  26. Has this been replicated?

  27. Vasil Kolev:
    Looking at the questions, I think this was mostly a parsing problem, and the people thought they were reading the same question again.

    If this were the case, the follow-up justification arguments would have supported the original statement, not the reversed one; I think this pretty much refutes the whole “parsing issue” objection.

    TheEchoInside: On a completely unrelated note though, when do you think you’ll be getting those advance manuscripts of the sidequel to Blindsight to us, your loyal blog followers? You know, like you promised… In that now deleted post… From months ago…

    Pretty much all you’re gonna be seeing on this blog throughout January is excerpts from the sidequel, since that’s all I’ll be working on. I hope that will suffice.

    Hugh: The unquestioned assumption in this study (and most similar ones) is that those giving the test are smarter than those taking it, and therefore that the responses are all genuine because they would notice if the respondents were just trying to piss them off or see what they could get away with.

    I’d buy that interpretation in a few cases; not in enough cases to affect the stats on a study with an N of 160, though.

  28. Mr Non-Entity: As suggested elsewhere (Hljóðlegur), I think this study has far too many confounds to be useful for the purposes it claims. The issues are far too hot-button and the wording appears to be too weaseling

    This might be more of a feature than a bug. Hot-buttonity increases the chance both that a participant will have thought about the issue and will have strong opinions thereupon, while (potentially) ambiguous wording acts a Rorschach blot upon which respondents can more easily project those opinions. But regardless of how the question is interpreted, the follow-up rationale is entirely in the hands of the respondent; and those were compelling enough to convince a blind jury.

    Joseph Hertzlinger:
    Has this been replicated?

    Not yet (at least, no rep has been published); remember, this study only just came out. In a sense, though, this study itself kinda replicates earlier change-blindness work by the same authors, although this is the first time that change-blindness was applied to political/moral beliefs.

  29. Peter Watts:
    [on replication]
    Not yet (at least, no rep has been published); remember, this study only just came out.In a sense, though, this study itself kinda replicates earlier change-blindness work by the same authors, although this is the first time that change-blindness was applied to political/moral beliefs.

    In the section on “Choice Blindness and Preference Change for Faces” [pdf] in pp. 121-141 of Neuroscience of Preference and Choice the authors summarize some criticism of the statistical methods they used for the face studies and how they adjusted their methods to accommodate the criticisms.

    But Chen (2008) points out that this and all other versions of the free choice paradigm fall prey to a set of egregious statistical errors. In Brehm (1956), and in subsequent studies using the rating-based version of the FCP, the common procedure has been to remove all participants that are not consistent between the first rating and the choice – i.e. they first rate A over B, but then choose B over A in a direct binary choice between them (e.g. 21% of the participants in Brehm 1956 were removed for this reason)

    […]

    The objection by Chen and Risen effectively undermines the entire tra- dition of research using the FCP. Given that the results of FCP research has been taken for granted for so long, and has been cited and relied upon in numerous other related studies, such a conclusion would have far reaching consequences.

    In an effort to help fill this void, we recently adapted our choice blind- ness paradigm to incorporate a measure of preference change. If the par- ticipants in our experiments accept the reversed outcome of their choice and then also changed their future preferences in line with the manip- ulations made, it would serve as firm evidence that choices can indeed influence future preferences.

    They then go on to describe the changes and also refer to conceptual replications they’ve done along with other groups.

    Do a search on Smeesters and Stapel and Bargh to understand some of the problems in the field of social psychology. e.g. Psychology’s Woes and a Partial Cure: The Value of Replication and so on and so forth.

    Back to choice blindness. The choice blindness in the marketplace study was very counter intuitive and I wanted to be able to attempt to replicate it in a different setting–such as my neighborhood which is culturally and economically different than the one they used. But taking in to consideration how easy it is for professionals to fuck up experimental design and execution (read some of the articles where Bargh responds to his critics (actually, you can’t read them all, he took them down in a snit. though I’ve saved some of them)) I figured I would fuck things up even more…. along with feeling way to approach a grocer to ask permission for setting up a taste stand.

    (trying a replication on a website would be easier, though I’d need lots of money for that–reason being that I think it would be cool to try this on something with higher stakes, such as vacation packages. real ones, where people get awarded real bookings. I am used to building things like that, but not used to having the funds to send a statistically significant number of families on vacation)

  30. More for the replication topic. since I have some bookmarks saved on it that might be better than a random google.


    Nature | News Feature: Replication studies: Bad copy: In the wake of high-profile controversies, psychologists are facing up to problems with replication.
    , Ed Yong.

    interview with Uri Simonsohn, the kick-ass dude who uncovered Smeesters. and his page with many pdfs.

    anyone has questions, I’ve been keeping up with this stuff as a hobby ever since discovering the concept of open science and looking for the set where open science intersects with psychology.