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Your Moral Compass Is Reversible

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the i-must-have-had-a-good-reason dept.

Science 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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reading comprehension? (5, Insightful)

The Barking Dog (599515) | about 2 years ago | (#41409649)

Isn't that a better test of people's poor reading comprehension and listening skills?

Re:reading comprehension? (5, Interesting)

cod3r_ (2031620) | about 2 years ago | (#41409681)

That's what I got from this too. People are just more or less dummies and pay very little attention to what they are talking about.

Re:reading comprehension? (4, Insightful)

superwiz (655733) | about 2 years ago | (#41409897)

You are confusing poor attention span with stupidity. Poor attention span can also lead to more creative thinking and thus more innovative ideas.

Re:reading comprehension? (5, Funny)

kilfarsnar (561956) | about 2 years ago | (#41409979)

You are confusing poor attention span with stupidity. Poor attention span can also lead to more creative thinking and thus more innovative ideas.

That's what I tell my boss, anyway! ;-)

Re:reading comprehension? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41410571)

No, it's true, I mean have you seen that new, wait, what were we talking about?

Re:reading comprehension? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41409685)

Isn't that a better test of people's poor reading comprehension and listening skills?

No. It shows that most people are not thinking critically, which we already knew, but is a lot more dangerous.

Re:reading comprehension? (5, Insightful)

JaredOfEuropa (526365) | about 2 years ago | (#41409751)

On the contrary, the results show that many people actually read the altered questions to their answers correctly, and then still stand by their given answer, even though the meaning of the answer was effectively changed 180 degrees by changing the question.

"Is censorship bad?". You answer "Yes"
They then change the question to read "Is censorship good?" and ask you to read back the altered question and your answer.

The interesting part is not that half the test subjects fail to notice the changes. The interesting part is that, when asked to provide argument, about half the test subjects will argue *against* the position they held when they answered the unaltered question. In my example, thest subject would provide argument in favour of censorship, even though he was against it earlier.

Re:reading comprehension? (5, Insightful)

anomaly256 (1243020) | about 2 years ago | (#41409801)

All that shows is that the majority of people would rather lie than appear to be lying

Re:reading comprehension? (2)

cayenne8 (626475) | about 2 years ago | (#41409911)

Hey, whatever it takes to get by in life, survive and succeed, you know?

I think most peoples' moral compass....points in the direction that will be most beneficial to them at the given moment they are called upon to utilize it.

Re:reading comprehension? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41410511)

Hey, whatever it takes to get by in life, survive and succeed, you know?

I think most peoples' moral compass....points in the direction that will be most beneficial to them at the given moment they are called upon to utilize it.

Yes. Those would be idiots who lack integrity and character. You can usually find them chasing a carrot on a string.

Pretty soon, we'll be able to buy morons like this on the open market in packages of a dozen...oh wait, I forgot, it's an election year. We already do.

Re:reading comprehension? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41409947)

Something like that, but not quite. My thought was that perhaps people would rather lie by defending a position they don't agree with than admit to feeling uncertain when someone tells them they said the opposite of what they thought they were saying.

And it doesn't *show* anything unless different explanations were investigated and all but one could be excluded. I haven't read the paper, so I don't know if anything was shown or not shown.

Re:reading comprehension? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41410209)

None of the above (parent/grandparent/ggp/etc).

This shows that people expect the questions that they answer to remain unchanged after they are answered. It further shows that people do not re-analyze every detail of every thing that comes their way, but instead trust that their previous decision/answer was that which was intended.

Imagine having to re-analyze everything. I want to touch type, so I'm expected to review the keyboard layout before typing? I write a word on a piece of paper, and proofed it, but I'm expected to re-read the paper before I sign it, just to make sure no words have changed on me? I write some code, but I'm supposed to check that the compiler continues to treat 'if' the same way as it used to, every time before I compile?

All the researchers did was identify a short cut that people take called "remembering".

Re:reading comprehension? (2)

Bardez (915334) | about 2 years ago | (#41410441)

You have to wonder how strongly people felt about the question. Try it with taxes or abortion or something that a lot of people actually give a damn about. Unfortunately, despite all I've ever said to people, censorship never enters the give-a-damn category for the general populace.

Re:reading comprehension? (2)

AwesomeMcgee (2437070) | about 2 years ago | (#41410073)

Then this just shows people trust their previous judgement blindly, when told they answered a certain way they assumed that answer reflects their position on the topic and that since it's their position it's right, rather than being self-critical and asking themselves again if that answer is the correct position.

Just shows people's personal choice for faith over critical thinking, which we already knew.

Re:reading comprehension? (5, Interesting)

craigminah (1885846) | about 2 years ago | (#41410135)

Didn't Looney Tunes teach this exact thing 60 years ago:

Daffy Duck to Elmer Fudd: "It's rabbit season!"
Buggs Bunny to Elmer Fudd: "It's duck season!"
Daffy Duck to Elmer Fudd: "It's rabbit season!"
Buggs Bunny to Elmer Fudd: "It's rabbit season!"
Daffy Duck to Elmer Fudd: "It's duck season, now blast the duck!"
Elmer Fudd: [boom, duck bill on top of Daffy Duck's head]

Re:reading comprehension? (1)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | about 2 years ago | (#41410355)

Exactly what I came here to post. Nicely done. I've used this throughout my life to infuriate siblings and co-workers alike. The really interesting part is how long it takes them to figure out what happened in the argument. The more emotional you can get them the longer it will take.

Re:reading comprehension? (1)

omnichad (1198475) | about 2 years ago | (#41410591)

I can't believe this didn't immediately spring to mind! Thanks for posting.

Re:reading comprehension? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41410235)

... then still stand by their given answer ...

Isn't this covered in Psychology 101? People will repeatedly invest in a losing proposition rather than 'cut' their losses. This also explains the Nigerian scam and casinos.

Re:reading comprehension? (1)

Deliveranc3 (629997) | about 2 years ago | (#41410237)

Maybe they were arguing for their position, their arguments were just so bad they appeared as the opposite?

Re:reading comprehension? (5, Funny)

grcumb (781340) | about 2 years ago | (#41409781)

Isn't that a better test of people's poor reading comprehension and listening skills?


I mean, No.

Well, whatever it is we're talking about, it's WRONG.


Re:reading comprehension? (3, Informative)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 2 years ago | (#41409829)

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

A phenomenon previously only shown (-1, Troll)

SmallFurryCreature (593017) | about 2 years ago | (#41410123)

A phenomenon previously only shown when people signed up as a Republican.

Do you support baby eating?

Human being: NO!

Republican: Only if they are babies who totally depend on other people to sustain them!

Mind you, a republican could never have his moral compass reversed. You cannot reverse that which does not exist. Republican Schwarzenegger attempted to show that Republican do however have a heart after he needed a pacemaker. Indeed, it showed that Republican do have a heart. A diseased organ that can only be kept functioning through the repeated application of electric shocks. Not sure what he tried to proof? That cattle prods should be used on Republicans?

Re:A phenomenon previously only shown (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 2 years ago | (#41410351)

As you rant against republicans, just recall that is commonly THEM who are labeled as spouting vitriol. Way to raise the level of political discourse and show how resonable you as a democrat are.

Perhaps the lesson here are that generalizations get you into trouble.

Re:A phenomenon previously only shown (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41410465)

So anyone who dislikes the Republican party is automatically a kitten-stomping Democat?
How small-minded you are.

Re:reading comprehension? (5, Funny)

SuiteSisterMary (123932) | about 2 years ago | (#41410193)

Eating babies should be forbidden

Strongly disagree: If the babies don't eat, they die off, and we run out of people in a generation. I, for one, am all for eating babies.

Starving babies, on the other hand, I would like to forbid.

Re:reading comprehension? (2)

jellomizer (103300) | about 2 years ago | (#41410013)

I think it is more of a case most people really don't have a strong moral compass or have really though about the issues at hand.

We Grow up with our parents saying that the Republicans are Evil and the Democrats are Good or the other way around, this helps fix your views of the world. Now if these moral issues don't come up in your life, you can go on the belief that it is correct without really thinking about it. For me what helped me moderate myself from growing up with very conservative parents was the fact I was in the schools debate team, and we were encouraging to play devils advocate on almost all the issues at hand, even to the point of supporting the Extremism Lefts and Rights.

The problem is most of our moral issues are on a high level view, and once details come and disrupt it, it burrs the issues.
And what seems black and white on paper is actually a complex problem.

Appearing Foolish / Stage Fright / Oral Interview (5, Insightful)

trout007 (975317) | about 2 years ago | (#41410145)

I am an engineer and when I first started having design reviews in relatively large groups > 25 people. I was terrible at it. I couldn't think on my feet and explain things clearly. I had stage fright and I just talked so I wouldn't appear foolish because thinking under that pressure was difficult. As I gained experience it became much more natural and now I feel like what I say in those groups is actually what I am thinking.

I think the same thing is happening here. Someone has filled out a questionnaire and is now being asked to read aloud (uncomfortable for many) and then defend their opinions (also difficult for many). Many people just want to get out of those situations and not appear foolish and don't take time to think.

Re:reading comprehension? (1)

Barryke (772876) | about 2 years ago | (#41410431)

Or their compass doesnt encompas the subject. Some things some people care less about, or have a less defined opinion about.

Depending who asks me on what moment in what way (context) the answer on the same question may change, especially after consuming (for me relevant) information in the meanwhile.

The other questions in the questionnaire help support answers in eachother, its how many guestimate their exams.

We have always... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41409653)

...been at war with Eastasia.

Re:We have always... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41410375)

Just look at the left:

January 19, 2009: "War is bad!"
January 20, 2009: "War is good! Disagree? You are racist!"

Fox News (3, Interesting)

RazzleFrog (537054) | about 2 years ago | (#41409659)

Hasn't Fox News been pulling this trick for years? It's awful how people get money from the government - except, of course, our viewers who are primarily on medicare and social security. Ignore the man behind the curtain.

Re:Fox News (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41409667)

So there is hope for the evil vile liberals?

Re:Fox News (3, Funny)

Shavano (2541114) | about 2 years ago | (#41409693)

Fox news has always supported President Obama.

Re:Fox News (0)

captainpanic (1173915) | about 2 years ago | (#41409673)

FOX News, 22 september 2012. The whole world is now at war with Sweden.

Don't listen to what they say. The things Swedish people say are harmful for your health, and bad for the Economy.

Re:Fox News (1)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about 2 years ago | (#41409709) a matter of fact, Fox changes it from "War with Finland" to "War with Sweden" right within the same newscast.

Re:Fox News (1)

game kid (805301) | about 2 years ago | (#41409717)

They can be bizarre neck-breakers to watch sometimes. One moment they're pointing the finger of scorn at, say, "entitlements", and another they're going after Obama for, say, raiding them and risking the lives of the elderly.

All politicians do this, because disparate voting blocs, but the way Fox News and the GOP do it and the vast number of lies they use to that effect are frightening and frighteningly effective. Personally I'd prefer to break my neck at a mall...

Re:Fox News (1)

superwiz (655733) | about 2 years ago | (#41409943)

Blah blah blah. Translation: my party is better than your party. Reality: there is a vector space of issues with weights assigned to each dimension of the space. "Policy" is a recursive function on this space. Every political argument ever made: correlation (ie, linear projection of one variable in the space on one other variable in that space) between 2 variables, among over a hundred variables, is all that matters.

Re:Fox News (0)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 2 years ago | (#41410403)

Youre not watching closely if you havent seen all news networks do it. I wont claim that theyre all equal, but ive definately seen my share of nonsense from the other networks.

Youre noticing it most on fox because you tend to be more critical of fox and their views. I notice it on other stations because I disagree with their viewpoint and hence will tend to be more critical of them. We all have our biases, and if youre not careful it leads you to think your ownside is spotless (its not).

Re:Fox News (1)

somersault (912633) | about 2 years ago | (#41409731)

Words such as forbidden and permitted brings a lot of implications about the current state of things. It might not be that people are arguing for the opposite case, but are arguing that people should have a choice?

I often play the devil's advocate when conversing with people, just to try to get them to think things through from different points of view. Having strong opinions without actually having thought about why you have them is a bad way to live.

Re:Fox News (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41409759)

Hasn't Fox News been pulling this trick for years? It's awful how people get money from the government - except, of course, our viewers who are primarily on medicare and social security. Ignore the man behind the curtain.

Yeah, right, Fox News is biased.

Call me when they run something that's "fake but accurate".

Call me when they refuse to run a video of Obama clearly supporting wealth redistribution because it hasn't been "authenticated" after they intentionally doctor George Zimmerman's 911 call to make him sound racist.

Re:Fox News (1)

kilfarsnar (561956) | about 2 years ago | (#41410101)

They're all biased, or at least have an agenda. It just depends on what flavor you like. The corporate media exist, at this point, to manage perception, not to inform.

Guns don't kill people, George Zimmerman does (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41410109)

"George Zimmerman's 911 call to make him sound racist."

Fox News: "Guns don't kill people, PEOPLE kill PEOPLE"
Fox News: "Except George Zimmerman, nah that was gun, he was afraid, it went off in his hand, we at Fox news blame the gun"
Is that basically the Fox News position in this?

Also surely Romney is *FOR* wealth redistribution? He just wants the lower 47% to pay more to the upper 1%!

They've backed Romney, now they're stuck trying to make it sound like a good thing.My guess is they'll flip their position if he looks like a loser and attack him, so they can hold some sort of sanity for future fights.

Re:Guns don't kill people, George Zimmerman does (1)

LordLimecat (1103839) | about 2 years ago | (#41410421)

Fox News: "Except George Zimmerman, nah that was gun, he was afraid, it went off in his hand, we at Fox news blame the gun"
Is that basically the Fox News position in this?

The position was that self defense has always been an accepted defense, and Fox News believe this to be self defense. I dont believe I heard anyone use your strawman position, but perhaps I wasnt listening closely.

Re:Fox News (1)

TWX (665546) | about 2 years ago | (#41409817)

Fox News is passionate, in the overflowing with emotion sense. They portray outrage at perceived injustice and express strong nonverbal approval or disapproval on topics. A lot of people seem to naturally empathize, probably as a reaction similar to what allows us to build communities in the first place, so the viewers or a portion of them become as passionate as the presenters out of empathy, even if they'd have otherwise disagreed with the positions.

Msnbc and Air America have tried this approach with some success, but it seems that more people on the left don't fall for it or have actually reasoned some of their positions more thoroughly or are turned off by the approach. I tried listening to Air America and even though I agreed with a lot of what they were talking about, I was turned off by the format. I felt that it was more analogous to the two-minutes-hate a'la 1984 than rational discussion.

Re:Fox News (1)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about 2 years ago | (#41409937)

I don't have any problem with the existence of media like this, but I do have a problem with the labeling. It isn't news and I think it is so far away from news that the title is misleading.

If they want to have a format like that more power to them, but they should be disallowed from calling it "news." One label I like is "news entertainment" (basically because they are analog to news as the WWF.. oops I mean WWE is to sports).

Fox, being on the far right, is dealing with some weak minded people who can't tell the difference (sorry.. it's true as much as you might not like that). On the left side it's less successful because they are thinking it through more. But if they are doing this neither "side" should call it news.

Also.. once again we're totally neglecting the fact that pro-corporate bias is rampant in every newsroom on the planet.. but that's another discussion.

Re:Fox News (3, Insightful)

KalvinB (205500) | about 2 years ago | (#41410327)

Medicare and Social Security are not the government's money. It's our money we specifically paid in for those programs. They're mandated savings accounts.

Re:Fox News (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41410603)

By your definition, *all* the government's money is our money.

Re:Fox News (1)

omnichad (1198475) | about 2 years ago | (#41410679)

More or less. I mean, it's technically the future generation's money, and pyramid-shaped - counting on continual population growth to be sustainable. It's worked for us so far, but there's likely to be a limit to it soon at the current pay-in rates.

Elegant (2)

Hentes (2461350) | about 2 years ago | (#41409689)

Nice trick, but I'm still not sure if people really believed in what they were arguing for or just wanted to avoid looking stupid.

Re:Elegant (1)

scibri (2544842) | about 2 years ago | (#41409859)

That's a good question, and one that has come up several time in discussion of this research. Since they explained the trick to people after, I think that possibility might have been minimized, as the subjects might then say "oh, I thought something was amiss, but was embarrassed to ask" and then they could be discounted, or assigned to the 'not changing opinions' group. But that's a guess on my part. In hindsight, I should have asked it myself when editing the story, and gotten Zoe to find out for sure!

Re:Elegant (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 2 years ago | (#41409863)

Both of those possibilities are equally scary. If this happened to me I'd read over the answers, see that they were consistently opposite of my opinions and I'd either ask what the hell happened to my form or think I had some kind of massive brainfart when filling it out. But I wouldn't defend the positions on the form.

but were the changes... (1)

TWX (665546) | about 2 years ago | (#41409691)

...both long-term and on topics that the subjects had felt strongly enough about that they had purposefully taken a reasoned stance?

I won't disagree that lots of people can be manipulated relatively easily, as that's how marketing makes a living. I just wonder how lasting or personally important the topics were.

It's also important to note that those experienced in practicing debate often have to advocate for something they don't personally believe in, and those who practice law do the same.

Yep (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41409701)

Mitt agrees.

Re:Yep (1)

superwiz (655733) | about 2 years ago | (#41409963)

Mitt agrees.

Let me fix that for you: Obama lies...

Sex (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41409707)

Wait, so if I ask a girl if I'm forbidden to get into her panties, and then change it to ask if I'm permitted...

She'll take off her pants?

This is what science needs to be studying, new ways for me to get laid.

Re:Sex (1)

NEDHead (1651195) | about 2 years ago | (#41409749)

Don't you mean -any- way to get laid?

Re:Sex (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 2 years ago | (#41409879)

Hey it's worth a try right? :D

Re:Sex (1)

MickyTheIdiot (1032226) | about 2 years ago | (#41409965)

If it works .1% of the time then you just have to as 1000 girls.

Re:Sex (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | about 2 years ago | (#41410111)

Exactly. I'm going to do it in the form of an online poll and find a way to link it on Pinterest.

Cartoons? (3, Insightful)

bdcrazy (817679) | about 2 years ago | (#41409715)

Duck Season
Wabbit Season
Duck Season ...
Daffy tells bugs to fire and gets shot.

How the title is misleading.

Maybe it wasn't just harmless humor with all the gun issues these days and the lack of understanding.

duck season (1, Funny)

shadowrat (1069614) | about 2 years ago | (#41409723)

So they got the subjects to say duck season when they really meant wabbit season? I seem to have seen something like this before.

It's not magic... (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | about 2 years ago | (#41409729)'s merely the application of sleight of hand to take advantage of the fact that people don't pay any attention to anything which does not affect them directly either to their advantage or disadvantage. When you throw in such memes as "Think of the children!" or "If you don't agree, you're a terr'rist!", it's pretty fucking easy to change people's minds - without them ever being aware or realising that you just took their stupidity and rammed it up their arses with a weakest-of-the-weak thought-ending cliché.

When it affects them to their serious detriment, however, few even then will know what's hit them. If it blows by with nary a breeze or better, with good to excellent result, it's often dismissed as a stroke of good luck.

I've come to bury Caesar, not to praise him (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41409743)

Have you ever seen the trick where a responder will agree with 90% of what you say, but add in minor 10% disagreement point.
Then when you back with their comment (on the basis that they're basically in agreement), their position will shift to 20% disagreement. But you backed them, right? So you stick with it, let them have their 20% they basically agree. Then it becomes 30%, then 40%, before long the person with your backing is now saying the reverse of your position.

I've seen politicians use this swing argument, I've seen lobbyists use that, I've seen commentors here use it, it's famously used by Shakespeare.

It has a Japanese word, I wish I could remember it.

People don't like to back down, to admit they're wrong, this is why you get people making completely insane self contradictory remarks like this one:

As Shaw said (1)

jcupitt65 (68879) | about 2 years ago | (#41409757)

"I hold far too many opinions to be able to remember the reasons for all of them", as Shaw once said.

What trick? (1)

Big Hairy Ian (1155547) | about 2 years ago | (#41409763)

You are forbidden to mod up this post!

Did they even care in the first place? (5, Insightful)

Crasoose (1621969) | about 2 years ago | (#41409771)

I'd not be surprised if you planted a bunch of questions that are obscure to the every man and he changed his opinion when influenced. It also depends on how many questions they asked that were relatively new to the participant, they might get a bit overwhelmed with picking their answers. Especially if it is a topic like Net Neutrality to Joe Sixpack.

Goes to show... (0)

Andrewkov (140579) | about 2 years ago | (#41409787)

Think of how dumb the average person is. Then realize that 50% of the people out there are dumber than that.

I never reveal my moral position (1)

Skapare (16644) | about 2 years ago | (#41409799)

I just give out a random one, different each time.

More like tricked them (1)

Chemisor (97276) | about 2 years ago | (#41409811)

What I see is a bunch of people who were given a list of long, cumbersomly worded questions, spread over two pages. The second page repeated the questions on the first page, with two of them containing one changed word. I know if I were taking this survey, I'd read the first question on the second page and see that it's the same as one the first one and give it the same answer. Most of us would not read each question very closely for the second time unless we had some expectation of being tricked. The results of the study have nothing to do with morals, but rather expose the fact that we like to skip unnecessary work.

Re:More like tricked them (1)

pavon (30274) | about 2 years ago | (#41410107)

But the interesting part is that half of them would rather defend their accidental choice and argue against what they really believed than admit that they made a simple mistake filling out a form. It is an interesting insight into how ego can be more influential than opinion, and how that can be used against people to influence their opinions.

It's duck season... No, It's rabbit season (2)

apcullen (2504324) | about 2 years ago | (#41409815)

Buggs Bunny proved this years ago.

"You keep out of this. He doesn't have to shoot you now!"


Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41409841)

If you like Mitt Romney then you must be a fucking fascist.

Thank god for A.C. so I can speak what I feel.

A Study on Moral compass or reading retention? (1)

realsilly (186931) | about 2 years ago | (#41409843)

It proves that people are easily tricked and aren't retaining what they are reading.

As for Moral compass, this didn't need a Study to prove that a person's moral compass can change, hell look at the number of people who get married and state that they will be faithful to only one person and turn around and cheat on their spouses. Our divorce rate in this country shows moral compass changes better than any study.

Failed conclusion (1)

argStyopa (232550) | about 2 years ago | (#41409857)

I'm not sure that illustrates that you've 'reversed their moral compass'.
I think it shows how vulnerable people are to carefully-phrased questions, and once they've dismissed the 'contemplation' of a question in their mind, it's resolved and - if presented with something that they believe indicates they've already cogitated on it - they won't think it through.

So really it shows that we don't deeply think on everything particularly if we think we've already thought it through, which is hardly a shocking conclusion?

compass? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41409871)

I'm an atheist. According to Religious fundamentalists and zealots, I don't have a moral compass.

Reasonable explanation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41409893)

There of course is a reasonable explanation for this. People don't read carefully, and then vehemently defend their position because they don't want to look like the idiots that they are.

Old trick (4, Funny)

Rik Sweeney (471717) | about 2 years ago | (#41409899)

We used to do this at school:

"What would you prefer, to be nearly hit or nearly missed?"
"Nearly missed"
"OK then!"

And then you give them a dead arm :)

Converted by confusion (1)

aNonnyMouseCowered (2693969) | about 2 years ago | (#41409901)

"'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'."

Maybe this just proves that people get confused by long sentences made up of long words. What if the sentence was simply phrased as "Spying on people's email and Facebook accounts is bad"? How many more will notice when the "bad" is changed to "good".

I don't know what's worse, the weasel words of bureaucrats or the oversimplified slogans of some politicians and religious demagogues.

Re:Converted by confusion (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41410509)

Also, there's an actual difference between actively allowing behavior and passively allowing that behavior by not forbidding it. eg: in most of the US, there's no law against marrying your pet goat. This may be de facto prohibited because only human adults can enter into contracts, but it's not necessary to specifically forbid the marrying of goats. Actually, now that I think about it, there's no law forbidding you from marrying your own clone, either, and that would not be subject to the goat issue.

Anyway, if you believe that the 4th amendment already precludes searches without probable cause, then it's perfectly consistent to say that the special case where "search" means "large scale surveillance of everyone" should not be allowed but need not be forbidden.

I don't like where this is going (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41409913)

A moral compass tends to interfere with career advancement and social circles. Not being on the politically correct side of public policy issues can cost people their jobs, their "friends", opportunities, business, etc.

Bottom line: Keep supporting abortion, gay marriage, entitlements, open borders, big government, appeasing terrorists, etc. and all shall go well with you. Prove otherwise beyond any reasonable doubt.


Only the immature click on the flag on the right.

Re:I don't like where this is going (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 2 years ago | (#41410223)

Try getting a job at the Roman Catholic church with that attitude!

Magic (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41409921)

You know it's a solid scientific experiment when the phrase "magic trick" is used to describe the proceedings.

47% (1)

jvanber (170198) | about 2 years ago | (#41409967)

I guess Romney's leeches must have stuck to their guns.

People are stupid (1)

roman_mir (125474) | about 2 years ago | (#41409985)

People are stupid, news at 11.

There is a reason that USA wasn't founded as a direct democracy but instead as a representative Republic.

Of-course the failing of the Constitution was that it allowed for further expansion of government by not explicitly prohibiting it in every sentence.

"Yes, Prime Minister" did it better (4, Interesting)

dltaylor (7510) | about 2 years ago | (#41409989) []

and quoted, below (Sir Humphrey is a senior civil servant and Mr. Woolley, his junior):

Sir Humphrey Appleby: [demonstrating how public surveys can reach opposite conclusions] Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the rise in crime among teenagers?
Bernard Woolley: Yes.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think there is lack of discipline and vigorous training in our Comprehensive Schools?
Bernard Woolley: Yes.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think young people welcome some structure and leadership in their lives?
Bernard Woolley: Yes.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do they respond to a challenge?
Bernard Woolley: Yes.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Might you be in favour of reintroducing National Service?
Bernard Woolley: Er, I might be.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Yes or no?
Bernard Woolley: Yes.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Of course, after all you've said you can't say no to that. On the other hand, the surveys can reach opposite conclusions.
[survey two]
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the danger of war?
Bernard Woolley: Yes.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Are you unhappy about the growth of armaments?
Bernard Woolley: Yes.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think there's a danger in giving young people guns and teaching them how to kill?
Bernard Woolley: Yes.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think it's wrong to force people to take arms against their will?
Bernard Woolley: Yes.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Would you oppose the reintroduction of conscription?
Bernard Woolley: Yes.
[does a double-take]
Sir Humphrey Appleby: There you are, Bernard. The perfectly balanced sample.

Licensing (1)

puddingebola (2036796) | about 2 years ago | (#41410005)

I have used this technique for years in the licenses I use with my software. First notification, "I agree to the terms and conditions of this licensing agreement." Second notification, "I agree to renounce my rights under the constitution, sell myselft into slavery, and surrender my first born child to you." 100% adoption rate on both.

Moral compass? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41410017)

I fail to see how morality enters the picture. None of the test subjects apparently felt strongly enough about the subject matter to even notice their position had been switched... If a questionnaire suddenly stated that you "agreed with SCO's standpoint on Unix ownership", would you then start arguing why and how they should have won the lawsuits?

Ballots (1)

XDLMAO (2668915) | about 2 years ago | (#41410023)

This is why politicians argue about the wording on ballots. It makes a big difference on what people vote on based on the wording of the question.

Interesting paper (1)

Kiwikwi (2734467) | about 2 years ago | (#41410063)

I recommend skimming the paper (second link in TFS), it's short and quite readable. At the very least, check out the provided sample of successful manipulations [] (PDF; the notation is explained on page 2).

Highlights include:

Our intuition that abstract principles would involve more moderate attitudes, and engender less detection was not supported by the data.

The more the participants agreed or disagreed with a statement, the more likely they were to correct the manipulation.


The overall rating of the non-detected manipulated trials was notably high. Using a 9-point scale, the average rating was 2.8 or 7.2 depending on the direction of the rating, which means that the average ‘distance’ being manipulated when a statement was reversed was 4.4 units on the scale. This is evidence that the participants cared about the issues involved, and expressed seemingly polarized opinions about the manipulated issues they failed to detect.

Of course, serious multiple choice questionnaires often repeat the same questions with a different wording each time (or with a reversed scale), precisely to limit issues with bad self-reporting. It would be interesting to see if there's a correlation between consistent replies to differently worded versions of the same question, and ability to detect manipulations like in this study. If so, multiple-choice might be a useful tool after all.

Does it work on Julian Assange? (1)

pikine (771084) | about 2 years ago | (#41410067)

Leaving the Ecuadorian embassy and being extradited to Sweden in order to be tried for sex scandal ought to be forbidden as a means to combat political crime and terrorism committed in secret by established government.

Many people's moral compass changes (1)

IWantMoreSpamPlease (571972) | about 2 years ago | (#41410105)

as they get older. Think back to a time when you were half your age you are now, aren't there some things you thought were right (or wrong) that you have since changed your mind on?

I know I have. I used to, for example, think welfare served a good and noble purpose. Not anymore.

Was there a "don't care" option? (1)

Opportunist (166417) | about 2 years ago | (#41410157)

Because I'd probably not notice if my answers change in questions I didn't really care about. Why did I check that? Well, if I say "because I don't give a fuck" they'll not pay me, so I'll better come up with some reasons why I crossed out what I crossed out...

An excellent case (5, Insightful)

GeekWithAKnife (2717871) | about 2 years ago | (#41410189)

This is a prime example of cognitive dissonance and personal bias. People are biased in their own favor to the point where decisions and even memories will be reconstructed to agree with themselves.
Assuming a person is fooled into thinking a past decision was purely their own; what happens when a person has to explain something he does not remember? he makes it up!

It's sort of a basic "Oh it was my idea so I must be right" and the smarter the person the more elaborate the explanation around it will be.

Personally I believe that it is this sort of situation that should make one question an idea he himself has thought up even "intuition". It's surprising that people assume/are biased that just because a thought occurred to them it must be somehow more correct.

Bugs Bunny (1)

mtutty (678367) | about 2 years ago | (#41410197)

This is also known as "Bugs Bunny-ing" someone.

Re:Bugs Bunny (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41410629)

yeah? []

moral reasoning (3, Informative)

mbaGeek (1219224) | about 2 years ago | (#41410357)

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").

It's called "critical thinking skills" (2)

EmagGeek (574360) | about 2 years ago | (#41410405)

Part of the basic skill of critical thinking is to be able to listen to and understand arguments for positions you do not agree with.

If you're a mind-numbed automaton toeing a party line, simply regurgitating what you've been fed, you might feel you can make the claim that you're "morally consistent" or even "morally superior" to those who have the capability of analyzing data, considering different arguments, and making judgment calls based on that analysis.

53% (2)

Krau Ming (1620473) | about 2 years ago | (#41410527)

of the the people in this sample were clearly RETARDED. simple.

Moral Compass (2)

bickerdyke (670000) | about 2 years ago | (#41410619)

The needle on the "moral compass" usually shows in two opposite directions. (At least for the subjects that are worth discussing at all)

Like in the example here:

Of course you don't want gouvernment snoop in your facebook account, mails and phone calls.

But also Of course you want terrorists and other criminals convicted and jailed.

And you know the arguments for both sides, and you know that none of them (or very few of them...) are wrong. So it's reduced to a matter of which end of the moral compass needle seems to be longer and not which direction it is pointing to.

That's really the hard way (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41410671)

For a specific amount of dollars no further tricks are necessary to change my opinion on anything! Captcha: autocrat

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