People change moral position without even realizing it

September 19, 2012
This is a step-by-step demonstration of the choice procedure during a manipulation trial. (1) The questionnaire is attached to a clipboard. A paper slip with moral statements is attached to the first page of the questionnaire to conceal the same, but negated set of printed statements. (2) The participants rate their agreement with the statements on the first page of the questionnaire and (3) turn to the second page, and (4) rate their agreement with a second set of principles. (5) When the participants are asked to flip back the survey to the first page to discuss their opinions, the add-on paper slip from (1) now sticks to a patch of stronger glue on the backside of the clipboard, and remains attached there. When the participants now read the manipulated statements the meaning has been reversed (the equivalent of moving the actual rating score to the mirror side of the scale). (6) During the debriefing, the experimenter demonstrates the workings of the paper slip to the participants, and explains how the manipulation led to the reversal of their position. Credit: Hall L, Johansson P, Strandberg T (2012) Lifting the Veil of Morality: Choice Blindness and Attitude Reversals on a Self-Transforming Survey. PLoS ONE 7(9): e45457. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0045457

Shortly after expressing a moral view about a difficult topic, people may easily endorse the opposite view and remain blind to the psychological mismatch, according to research published Sep. 19 in the open access journal PLOS ONE.

In the study, led by Lars Hall of Lund University, Sweden, were presented with a survey about moral issues, including foundational principles and current hot topics with moral implications. To complete the survey they had to flip over the first page of questions, which was displayed on a clipboard, and this is where the researchers implemented a design usually used in performance magic: the back of the clipboard had a patch of that caught the top layer of the questions, so when the page was flipped back over, an opposite version of the original questions was revealed but the answers remained unchanged. In other words, the participants' responses were opposite to their originally declared positions

The researchers then discussed the participants' answers with them, and found that many participants supported their reported answers, even though the responses were opposite to what the individual had originally intended to express. The authors write that "participants often constructed coherent and unequivocal arguments supporting the opposite of their original position," suggesting "a dramatic potential for flexibility in our moral attitudes."

Commenting on their results, Lars Hall says, "It could have significant impact on research that uses self-reported questionnaires. Either we would have to conclude that many participants hold no real attitudes about the topics we investigate, or that standard survey scales fail to capture the complexity of the attitudes people actually hold".

Explore further: Men, women give to charity differently, says new research

More information: Hall L, Johansson P, Strandberg T (2012) Lifting the Veil of Morality: Choice Blindness and Attitude Reversals on a Self-Transforming Survey. PLoS ONE 7(9): e45457. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0045457

Related Stories

Men, women give to charity differently, says new research

December 18, 2008

To whom would you rather give money: a needy person in your neighborhood or a needy person in a foreign country? According to new research by Texas A&M University marketing professor Karen Winterich and colleagues, if you're ...

Moral dilemma scenarios prone to biases

December 14, 2009

Picture the following hypothetical scenario: A trolley is headed toward five helpless victims. The trolley can be redirected so that only one person's life is at stake. Psychologists and philosophers have been using moral ...

Are we more -- or less -- moral than we think?

February 22, 2011

If asked whether we'd steal, most of us would say no. Would we try to save a drowning person? That depends—perhaps on our fear of big waves. Much research has explored the ways we make moral decisions. But in the clinch, ...

Moral dilemma: Would you kill 1 person to save 5?

December 1, 2011

Imagine a runaway boxcar heading toward five people who can't escape its path. Now imagine you had the power to reroute the boxcar onto different tracks with only one person along that route.

Recommended for you

Psychosis associated with low levels of physical activity

August 25, 2016

A large international study of more than 200,000 people in nearly 50 countries has revealed that people with psychosis engage in low levels of physical activity, and men with psychosis are over two times more likely to miss ...

Sleep makes relearning faster and longer-lasting

August 22, 2016

Getting some sleep in between study sessions may make it easier to recall what you studied and relearn what you've forgotten, even 6 months later, according to new findings from Psychological Science, a journal of the Association ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.