Psychologists demystify artful dodging

May 6th, 2011 - 2:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, May 6 (IANS) How can some people skirt a question without answering it, yet satisfy their listeners?

A study says that people typically judge a speaker to form an opinion, which can make them susceptible to dodges.

Limited attention capacity is another reason people fall for dodges, said the authors, citing a study in which people counting basketball passes failed to notice a man in a gorilla suit, the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied reports.

Dodge detection greatly increased when listeners were directed to focus on the relevance of speakers’ answers regarding questions, or if the text of the correct question was visible to the listeners as the speaker responded.

The ability to recognise a dodge more than doubled, from 39 percent without the text to 88 percent with the text.

“Given concerns that voters are uninformed or misinformed and the many calls for increased education of voters… these results suggest that very simple interventions can dramatically help voters focus on the substance of politicians’ answers rather than their personal style,” said study authors Todd Rogers and Michael I. Norton, both of Harvard University.

The researchers conducted four different experiments with four separate groups of people totalling 1,139 men and women with an average age of 44, according to a Harvard statement.

In three of the studies, participants watched a video of a mock political debate and then responded to an online survey. In the fourth study, participants listened to excerpts of a recording of a mock political debate and then responded to questions.

The results indicated that people are frequently unable to remember an initial question if a speaker answers a similar question. Moreover, listeners rated speakers who answered a similar question just as positively as those who answered the correct question.

Listeners had the most negative reactions if speakers answered blatantly different questions or if they fumbled their words even while answering the correct question.

But dodges aren’t always bad, the authors noted, “such as when someone asks co-workers for their opinion on a new outfit”.

Still, our results suggest that in many cases, dodges cause sought-after and relevant information to go unspoken, with little awareness and few consequences, the authors said.

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