53% of Us Are Easily Tricked Into Arguing Against Our Moral Positions

By Lindsay Abrams

We may be more open-minded than we care to think.

What's your stance the moral defensibility of prostitution? Are you sure? In a study published in PLoS ONE, Swedish researchers got 160 survey respondents to report their positions on a variety of morally sticky concepts -- and then got the majority of them to change their minds without even realizing it.

The video shows how they pulled off the trick, the gist of it being that the original statements that the participants rated their agreement or disagreement with were surreptitiously reversed. So when participants returned to their responses, it now appeared that they were agreeing or disagreeing with the direct opposite of what they had originally seen.  And voila -- those who found Israeli violence against Hamas morally reprehensible were suddenly supporting it.

These switches went unnoticed 69 percent of the time. This video doesn't show subjects arguing vehemently in favor of moral issues that they had just claimed to oppose, but 53 percent ending up doing just that, including the most polarized of respondents.

The positive takeaway is that people are more open-minded than we generally give them credit for. The more pessimistic way of looking at it is that we aren't all that principled, and the conceptions of morality upon which society is built are actually a huge sham. If nothing else, it definitely calls to question the utility of surveys being able to tell us anything about what people actually think.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/09/53-of-us-are-easily-tricked-into-arguing-against-our-moral-positions/262681/