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Plasticity

 

Explanations > Theories > Plasticity

Description | Research | Example | So What? | See also | References 

 

Description

Many questions will be answered very differently by the same person according to the context of the questions, including where they are placed amongst other questions.

This happens to some extent because the things which have gone before put us in a particular frame of mind or mental state which has an effect on how we perceive the question.

Plasticity is the degree to which questions may be affected by the context and previous questions. A highly plastic 

Research

Schuman and Presser (1981) asked people the following two questions:

  1. Do you think a Communist country like Russia should let American newspaper reports come in and send back to America the news as they see it?
  2. Do you think the United States should let Communist newspaper reports from other countries come in and send back to their papers the news as they see it?

82% said yes to the first question and 75% said yes to the second question. However, when the questions were reversed, only 55% said yes to letting Communist reporters report from USA and 64% approved of US reports from Communist countries.

They also found differences when they rearranged a question about whether divorce should be easier to obtain,  remain the same or be more difficult to obtain.

Example

Police will reconstruct a crime to help witnesses (as well as victims) answer questions accurately. The reconstruction may also shock the perpetrators into mistakes. 

So what?

Using it

If you want someone to say yes, then ask questions beforehand which have an obvious ‘yes’ answer. If you want them to reject something, ask them a question before that makes them more fearful.

Defending

When answering a questions, pause to let your mind clear and emotions settle.

See also

Perceptual Contrast Effect, Perceptual Salience

http://www.as.wvu.edu/~sbb/comm221/chapters/twostep.htm

References

Schuman and Presser (1981)

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