I came across this article this morning via a blog post from



"Wolves in sheep’s clothing: How and when hypothetical questions influence behavior" by Sarah G. Moore and others. Full article unfortunately unavailable for free.

"We examine how and when hypothetical questions influence judgment and behavior.

Hypotheticals increase the accessibility of the positive or negative information in the question.

Thus, hypotheticals influence behavior according to the valence of the question.

Hypotheticals exert a stronger influence when they are consistent with existing knowledge.

Hypotheticals exert a weaker influence when individuals are aware of their impact."

I think this is a deliberate and obvious application of psychological priming, where we are biased to interpret events, through exposure to positive or negative tone words.

Hypotheticals frame the context of the discussion, and require to you use the hard path of cognition to think in a different way. They are a source of error in social science surveys, and are often used by marketers and political pollsters to lead our response.

I'd like to read the full paper to find out what sort of experimental method they used.

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Some notes from the paper.

The distinction between Intention questions ("Do you plan on voting in the next election?") and hypothetical questions ("If you were called to serve on the jury, would you be able to vote for the death penalty?") was new to me.

Intention questions prime behavior positively when you already have positive beliefs.

"...Hypothetical questions may activate and update specific aspects of attitudes based on the new information they provide."

So, hypotheticals may be context setting, rather than behavior inducing.

They discuss question-behavior and support theory papers. To make claims about "accessibility as an implicit mechanism underlying the impact of hypothetical questions on behavior". Accessiblity is how easily an idea comes to mind. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attitude_(psychology).

Moderately large studies N=99, N=250. more to follow

Also, here is a real world example of hypothetical questions having impact on our world.

"Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for John McCain for president if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?" Link

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