The Artful Dodgers

October 7th, 2008 § 0 comments

The Washington Post:

“Palin was loosely on topic, but a couple of times she really bungled the pivot,” said Daniel J. Simons, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who has studied how people can miss things that are right under their nose. “In one case, she made it explicit she was going to switch topics. That was not a smooth transition, whereas if you had watched a McCain or an Obama or a Biden make that transition, they would not have said, ‘I want to talk about taxes,’ they would have answered the question in a way that led into taxes.”

A review of the debate transcripts shows Obama, McCain and Biden all repeatedly dodging questions, adroitly transitioning from questions they were asked to questions they wanted to answer.

In a series of particularly relevant experiments, psychologists Todd Rogers and Michael I. Norton recently showed that most people are extremely poor at spotting even dramatic discrepancies between questions and answers. They found the failure was especially acute when answers were semantically linked to questions — for example, when a question about the war on drugs is parried by an answer about health care. Audiences seemed to notice dodges only when answers were completely unrelated to the question — such as responding to a question about illegal drugs by discussing terrorism.

The psychologists found that irrelevant answers delivered fluently and with poise scored higher with audiences than answers that were accurate, on-topic, but halting. And when they had actors deliver the same answers to audiences — once fluently and once with “ums” and “ahs” — audiences judged the hesitant responses as intellectually inferior to the fluent ones.


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