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Your Moral Compass Is Reversible 295

scibri writes "Your moral positions may be more flexible than you think. Researchers in Sweden have tricked people into reversing their opinions on moral issues, even to the point of constructing good arguments to support the opposite of their original positions (paper in PLOS ONE). They used a 'magic trick' to reverse a person's responses to such moral issues as 'Large-scale governmental surveillance of e-mail and Internet traffic ought to be forbidden as a means to combat international crime and terrorism,' by switching 'forbidden' to 'permitted' when the subject turned the page of the questionaire. When asked to read back the questions and answers, about half of the subjects did not detect the changes, and a full 53% of participants argued unequivocally for the opposite of their original attitude in at least one of the manipulated statements."
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Your Moral Compass Is Reversible

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  • by GameboyRMH ( 1153867 ) <> on Friday September 21, 2012 @09:08AM (#41409829) Journal

    It's worse than that. If I understand TFA correctly it's saying that these people gave their opinions on a topic by filling out a survey form with an agree/disagree scale, but then that form had it's questions flipped (with their same answers filled in) and the people supported what was written on the form later when interviewed about their answers.

    So for example, you'd have a question that says "Eating babies should be forbidden" with a scale of 1-5, 1 being "strongly disagree" and 5 being "strongly agree." You fill in 5. Then your form gets changed behind your back and you are asked to explain your answers in an interview. The people in this survey saw that they apparently answered "Strongly Agree" to "Eating babies should be permitted" and began to defend baby-eating O_O

  • moral reasoning (Score:4, Informative)

    by mbaGeek ( 1219224 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @09:52AM (#41410357) Homepage

    all this study illustrates is a low level of moral reasoning skills on the part of the reasearchers

    isn't this sort of thing covered in introductory statistics classes? How the question is asked will always impact the results of the study. If you are making your living taking polls, it is possible to get the results you want by skewing the sample size/distribution and/or writing biased questions.

    BTW: what is the difference between "ethics" and "morality?" If you are a politician (who just got caught cheating on his wife) you might say "Ethics is what I do on the job, morality is what I do in private." What the politician is REALLY saying is that "Whatever I do is right - because I say it is right."

    moral relativity is a very dangerous thing which has become the norm in western society (but the other extreme is the Spanish Inquisition - and nobody expects the ...)

    I will argue that "ethics" is the day to day interpretation of "morality." for example: do you believe "stealing" is wrong? yes, you shouldn't take other people's stuff - that would be WRONG. ("morality") Is it stealing if I walk off with the bank teller's pen? ("ethics").

  • Re:Fox News (Score:4, Informative)

    by Artifakt ( 700173 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @12:04PM (#41412043)

    What about: you're noticing it more because Fox does it more? There's been several studies, notably from Columbia School of Journalism, where Fox scored very poorly on an objective metric. For example, Fox was compared to various TV and print sources, from the Wall Street Journal to Al Jazeera, on a single standard - whether they got the titles and discriptors of their quoted source people and interview subjects right - that is, if they said somebody was a Psychiatrist, did that person actually have that degree, or was it maybe in Psychology or Sociology instead - If they said somebody was a retired Colonel in the US Air Force, was that person actually in long enough to retire, and did they make that rank, and so on. Did they call the Third Assistant Dean of Women's Studies at Stamford, the Dean of English at Stanford? Fox scored very low on that study (incidentally, NPR did better than PRI, but the top of the list was the BBC, which beat both the WSJ and the Christian Science Monitor). The range was very broad, with the top institutions getting these details right about 98-99% of the time, and yet Fox was one of only two news sources which had a week where they were actually wrong more often than right on that particular metric. The other one was the aforementioned Al Jazeera.

    You can probably find most of the studies that involve Fox by using the search function built into this page: [] (Columbia Journalism Review), although some papers may not be indexed, and I won't be at all surprised if many of the primary sources are paywalled. If they are, I hope some person with access from within the University system can help with more info. The general feud that has developed between Fox anf the CSJ is well known, and I'm not claiming either side is completely free of biases, but some things stand out - I remember the attribution accredations study because it confined itself to a particular metric that was as well defined as most metrics in the hard sciences.

  • by Immerman ( 2627577 ) on Friday September 21, 2012 @01:14PM (#41412863)

    Except that isn't what appears to have happened. FTFA they had people record answers to a few moral questions and then retroactively changed the wording of the question (using some paste and paper trickery) so that their recorded answers actually meant the opposite of what they originally did. When people were then asked to review their answers and discuss/defend their position 53% didn't detect the change and argued for the position opposite their original answer.

    Now you could try to argue that all those people misread the question in the first place and consequently mis-answered it so that the trick reversal actually corrected the situation, but that would mean that over half the original answers were not representative of their actual position. The implication being that for such a question you would get a more accurate representation of their position by flipping a coin than by actually asking them, which would seem to be ridiculous and severely undermine the validity of every survey ever done on the planet.

e-credibility: the non-guaranteeable likelihood that the electronic data you're seeing is genuine rather than somebody's made-up crap. - Karl Lehenbauer