On a random day of the week, I was inspired to explore how set or changable are people’s feelings and views toward certain values and concepts. In particular, I wanted to test those things that are common intentional targets for long-term psychological manipulation, such as found in abusive realitionships, unethical sales practices, and coercive groups (cults), even though the test itself is not structured to reach conclusions directly related to such issues.
The concepts I chose were limited to the top ten I believe are of the highest importance that meet the above criterium: Doubt, Criticism, Truth, Trust, Questions, Dissent, Religion, Psychology, Cults, Critics
In a more accurtate study, the chosen premise in use of these particular questions is that if attitudes toward these concepts can be shifted, or redefined altogether, a person or group can create an environment where critical thinking is avoided where it counts, replaced by attitudes that foster trust and mistrust in intentional ways, insulating the subject from threats to previous or outside conflicting information and ideaology. The conclusion stemming from that premise would be the extent people might be able to be influenced at any given moment.
I didn’t expect to do a scientific survey, but more of a small-sample test trial of a method that could be used for such a purpose. Because of personal limitations on resources of time and effort I was willing to expend, no effort was made to capture a particular cross-section or demographic by any criteria whatsoever. I merely sampled people I knew who I thought were not out of the ordinary in everyday views, and of course I could count on to particpate start to finish if they decided to help.
Therefore, between limited sampling but even more so because of no demographic information captured or accounted for before or after, the results are meaningless — almost. The point was to test trial a process and hope that maybe it would render a hypothesis, however crude. At the very least my model would prsent an option or idea for a more serious researcher in this area.
The basic concept was to capture people’s attitudes toward each of the ten concepts (above) at a random moment and then repeat the process two more times at 2-week intervals, to show any changes over a full month period.
To do this, I created three statements about each of the 10 concepts they could choose that best fit their mood or belief at the time they read the questionaire. I attempted to make the statements for each concept a combination of two extremes and a middle view. This was difficult and probably could have been done much better for some of the questions, but I think I succeeded in making each of the three questions distinctly different enough from each other to indicate a major shift in view if someone went from one choice to its opposite (a then c for instance).
Here were the questions:
According to how you feel right now,
which of each statements seem most often true or helpful?
1. Doubt is
(a) A safeguard against being gullible
(b) Part of effective critical thinking
(c) handicap and hindrance for success
2. Criticism is
(a) A way to explore and correct problems
(b) Sometimes helpful, sometimes hurtful
(c) Seeing faults in others that are really your own
3. Truth is
(a) Something that means something in and of itself
(b) Depends of point of view
(c) Whatever you think or decide it is
4. Trust means
(a) Counting on someone based on experience
(b) Giving the benefit of the doubt
(c) Not having to ever question someone’s intentions
5. Questioning someone or something
(a) Is a way to get answers
(b) Is a means to express and overcome doubt
(c) Exposes the questioner’s motives
6. Dissent in a group is
(a) Healthy to ensure freedom of opinion
(b) Sometimes necessary, sometimes divisive
(c) A hindrance or even sabotaging of common purpose
7. Organized Religion is
(a) A search for truth and way of life for large groups of people
(b) A high purpose run by imperfect humans
(c) A way to trap and control people
8. Psychology is
(a) A advanced applied science and study of behavior
(b) A work in progress, dealing with issues of the mind
(c) A flawed system run by people who are selling their own beliefs
9. Cults are
(a) What people call something they don’t like because they are different
(b) Groups that use coercive psychological manipulation and/or social control
(c) Most religions that have a lot of indoctrination
10. People who criticize one or more religions or organizations are
(a) Interested in protecting others from what they believe is danger or delusion
(b) Intolerant of other people’s beliefs
(c) Out to make a name for themselves by criticizing others or redirecting attention from their own faults
An important disclaimer to note is that different people and groups attempt to shift these beliefs in different directions, depending on the level of the participant in an indoctination process or relationship commitment level, as well as the intention of the person or type of group.
For examples of level of involvement, a con artist or cult will first reinforce the trust-related aspects and create phobias toward doubt-related aspects of the individual until persuaded to accept the intented point of view. While doubt becomes a taboo with regards to the person or group and trust is expected within the controlled realtionship, the opposite is then expected as a filter for viewing contradictory views or criticisms. At this point an individual is often more actively persuaded to take on negative views of anything that would compete or interfere with that relationship.
For examples of type, a quasi-psychology cult such as Scientology will instill dislike or even loathing toward traditional psychology so contradictions with professional opinions will be ignored or discredited in the mind of the follower, while the value of promoting religious freedom is a front to label critics as intolerant. Many modern “New Age Movements” brand themselves as an alternative to traditional religion and are cultlike (coercive) to the extent they encourage or instill negative attitude toward religion in general both as a point of salesmanship with commonly existing attitudes as well as a way to break adherents’ ties to their existing affiliations that such a group indirectly competes with.
I sent out the first email on a Tuesday afternoon, May 22nd, 2007. A whopping total of five people responded. After some trouble with plain text attachemnts I included the survey in the body of the email. The important points are that they didn’t know the purpose beforehand and they didn’t keep the survey so they couldn’t look at their previous answers between surveys.
This is going out to about two dozen people as a simple 10-question survey. It would defeat the purpose of the survey to explain how it works in too much detail, but here’s a summary:
I need a few people to fill out this survey THREE times. The first time would be this week, the second two weeks later, and the third time a full month after the first time. I’m looking for psychological variability in personal sociological perspective on a number of vectors. Kinda a personality test, but not testing you as a particular person, but the changes or consistency of particular perspectives over a short span of time across a sampling of people.
This is not at all a formal research project but a test trial in order to suggest the viability of a particular research method that could be used on a larger scale. All answers will be kept confidential (though they are not really personal), and the results will be tabulated and explained after the end of the month to anyone interested. There might be a few exit questions as well, but it will depend on the results.
If you cannot commit to taking the survey ALL THREE TIMES over the course of the month, please do not volunteer. If you are uncomfortable with the survey for any reason, don’t participate. No hard feelings.
If you DO want to participate, open the attached text file and email me back the 10 answers (a,b,c), then delete the email so you wont be tempted to look at it before the next taking of it. In two weeks, and again at four, I will resend it to everyone to take it again. The important thing is not to worry about answering differently from one time to the next. Just answer how you feel at the time you take the survey.
Also, if you know anyone who would like to help by taking it too, let me know ASAP — the more people the better. I don’t even need to know who they are, but need to know it is the same person all three times for it to work.
Thanks for your help, and I look forward to your responses.
Two weeks later I resent the survey, and followed up with those who did not respond a few days later. Two weeks became a less than specific interval, but the interval was kept under three weeks. Again, something else that would be remedied by a more formal survey process.
The Results & Conclusion
The raw data is available as a PDF of an Excel spreadsheet, but the full data is sen in the image below.
People seemed to run the gambit on how they answered the questions and some showed a wide variation in answers overall between the opposite points a and c for different concepts. But this wasn’t the purpose of the study.
The comparison is how much of a change or “shift” from one end to the other can be seen sampling three instances over a relatively short period of time. And there is one noteworthy trend in this limited data, based on a simple observations:
Only one person in one instance answered any question using all three choices over the three questionnaire periods, “shifting” their view of any concept from one end of the spectrum to the other (such as from “a” to “c” or from “c” to “a”).
In other words, over short periods of time, people’s views on the selected concepts seem to be rigid or flexible, but not unstable or random. This could be used as a hypothesis for a similar study done more strictly in procedure and on a much larger scale for a more credible conclusion.