Are hypothetical questions used to manipulate you?

Definitely. They make irrelevant and potentially damaging issues more accessible which can cloud judgment without you realizing it. From Stanford:

“But what seems innocuous can have insidious effects on an individual,” says Baba Shiv, Sanwa Bank, Limited, Professor of Marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. He and his colleagues have shown that hypothetical questions don’t merely measure our current attitudes: such questions can actually sway opinion and affect behavior. And, in their most recent study in this line of research, they showed how and why this distortion occurs.

Some bullet point excerpts from the piece:

  • “Because they’re hypothetical, they’re not subject to criticism. If I make an outright accusation, I have to defend it, whereas with a hypothetical, I can say, ‘I didn’t say that. It’s a hypothetical question.’
  • …hypothetical questions like those used in push polls decreased the percentage of participants voting for the targeted candidate.
  • Hypothetical questions, they found, work by heightening what psychologists call “accessibility” — “what information becomes top of mind,” Shiv explains.
  • “…if a stereotype becomes top of mind, this top-of-mind knowledge will have an impact on behavior”
  • …what makes the process especially insidious is that it happens subconsciously. “Even if you alert people that this situation is hypothetical, they don’t latch on to that. They simply focus on the content, and not the context.”

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