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Fooling All of the People

Oct 26, 2008
Sarah Palin actually warned us, in her debate with Joe Biden, that "I may not answer the questions that either the moderator or you want to hear, but I’m going to talk straight to the American people…"1

Without such forewarning, you might not have noticed, as you probably didn’t notice during the presidential debates, that the question asked of the candidates wasn’t always the question they answered.

A pair of studies by the Harvard Business School entitled Conversational Blindness: Answering the Wrong Question the Right Way reveals just how often this phenomenon occurs. In the first study, a questioner asks a question and the interviewee proceeds to answer some other unasked question, and we usually fail to notice! When the answer is to a similar question, most of us can’t even remember the original question.

More remarkably, the second study discovered that we will rate someone who provides a good answer to a question they weren’t asked more highly than we will rate someone who gives a poor answer to the question that was asked.

Maybe we’d better all have a closer look at those debates2,3,4,5. Sometimes the Straight Talk Express is the Fast Talk Express, and we’re the ones being taken for a ride.
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1 Transcript of Palin, Biden Debate, from CNN, October 3, 2008 (Accessed October 21, 2008)
2 Full Vice Presidential Debate with Gov. Palin and Sen. Biden, from YouTube (Accessed October 21, 2008)
3 Third 2008 Presidential Debate, from YouTube (Accessed October 21, 2008)
4 Second 2008 Presidential Debate, from YouTube (Accessed October 21, 2008)
5 First 2008 Presidential Debate, from YouTube (Accessed October 21, 2008)
tags: Politics | Human Nature

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