Should We Believe People Feel The Way They Say?

Very interesting study here. Basically that people will publicly proclaim things they don’t really believe to fit in with what they think their group thinks.

Some interesting tidbits:

  • People are more likely to proclaim they believe abortion should be between a woman and her doctor than they are to actually believe that

  • People are more likely to say that schools focus too much on racism than to actually believe that

  • People are more likely to say they believe masks helped with Covid 19 spread than actually believe that it helped

  • People are more likely to say that gender identity issues should not be discussed with elementary aged kids than actually believe they should not be discussed with elementary aged kids.

I haven’t the time to dig into the study, I’m curious what they say about your opinion “in public”.

At work? My opinions are very muted.
With family? Depends who/where/when, if abortion comes up at Thanksgiving I’ll find a convenient way to be elsewhere.
With friends? They’re the ones I choose to associate with, my opinions are very different (and much more liberal).

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I disagree


I think we should dig into the source paper (the link in the OP is a “report out”) and its methodology and the wording of the items respondents were asked to “select the one which best matches your view”.

And I think there is a distinction between “personal belief” (I’m generally opposed to abortions–that is, I will not pursue that solution unless there are additional mitigating factors in play) and “what public policy should be” (I’m generally opposed to an all-out ban on abortions (even with exceptions) since there are many who believe differently than I do).

On a surface level, the article in the OP seems to be calling those of us described in the prior paragraph as presenting a different belief by virtue of “who’s listening”.

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I’ll probably take a deep dive on my lunch break out of curiosity since most of the questions seem flawed.

Mask-wearing was effective in stopping COVID? Does that mean that masks helped, or that mask-wearing policies were effective? Because I know people who went specifically to no-masks-allowed parties. I might know fewer of them today but I knew them anyway. Either way it clearly didn’t stop COVID. Only reduced the impact.

However it’s probably the effect of bad reporting, like “Scientists discover miracle cancer cure”

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The study has nothing to do with facts. It has to do with what people say they believe publicly verses what they actually believe privately.

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I agree that the devil may be in the details here on the survey questions. I do believe wearing a quality mask and social isolation helped slow the spread of COVID. Cloth masks were close to no benefit but maybe slowed a tiny bit of spread. I still wear a quality mask indoors in public places. However, as you say masks clearly did not stop COVID and wearing one certainly doesn’t prevent you from getting it.

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I tend to think you’re right about the effectiveness of “quality masks”, if properly fitted and worn. Do you think wearing cloth masks might have given some people a false sense of protection which lead to an increased spread of COVID?

Part of it is situational. I don’t think you’d really get an accurate feel for how you feel about abortion until you’re actually faced with having to make that decision. But until then it’s easy to hypothesize how you’d handle the situation which can be way different when you aren’t facing the real-life pressures of it.


Methodology is interesting.

Private Opinion in America elicited Americans’ private opinion using a list experiment
for a series of sensitive political, social, and cultural issues salient among the American
population today. List experiments (also called the item-count technique) are a form of
indirect questioning developed to minimize social desirability and nonresponse bias by
concealing respondents’ answers to sensitive items. Privacy is maintained by aggregating
responses to sensitive items with other items.

In a list experiment, respondents are randomized into either a control or experimental
condition. Both groups read a list of 4 to 5 items and report the number of items with
which they agree. However, respondents never specify which statements with which they
agree. Respondents in both the control and experimental conditions read and respond
to 4 identical items, but the experimental condition also reads and rates one additional
statement: the statement of interest. The mean difference of items reported across the
two groups is equal to the prevalence of that private opinion.

I think it’s a little misleading to call this a public vs private difference. No one is linking anyone’s name to any of the responses. The idea that you get a more honest answer when you group the question with others is interesting.


you could just as easily say that the need to wearing cloth masks (which are suffocating because they’re so close to your face) stopped people from wanting to go out.

I know needing to wear masks certainly stopped me from wanting to go out in general during covid. Because it’s just not fun.

“Should We Believe People Feel The Way They Say?”

Everyone? No.
People you know personally and trust? Most of the time.
That random homeless guy on the street who says he’s hungry and wants some money for food? Never.

Yeah, it is very neat.

And at this point, I think we don’t actually know if List Experiments “work” as intended.

There’s never been any proof, and there are some weird counter-examples where people are more honest about their own cocaine use when asked directly.

Here’s a few case studies of the idea.

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To the OP, I basically think people should be honest.

But I don’t buy the experiment.

Basically people might be more honest, or they might just be confused by your weird attempt to ask a complicated trick question.




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I think most people knew cloth masks were a poor substitute for a quality mask early on in the pandemic. That’s just all the general public had access to, and the thought was that even a little protection was better than nothing. There was also the theory early on that fomite transmission was possible, and crappy masks would help some with that.

I think the majority of people I see wearing masks today are either crappy cloth ones or poorly fitted quality ones. In my recent experience I’d say a majority of medical professionals in my area are not wearing a properly fitted mask. I think that is giving people a false sense of security, as a good mask only functions well when fitted properly.

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This is a good question.

It implies that cloth maskers would have otherwise bought better masks or isolated more. Not sure. Maybe.

As always, there is more information in the source:

Yep, I was skeptical about the methodology, too. Here’s a write up:

Now I’m going to read you three things that sometimes make people angry
or upset. After I read all three, just tell me HOW MANY of them upset you.
(I don’t want to know which ones, just how many.)
(1) “the federal government increasing the tax on gasoline;”
(2) “professional athletes getting million-dollar-plus salaries;”
(3) “large corporations polluting the environment.”
How many, if any, of these things upset you?

The treatment group was given the same question except that
the sensitive item was added to the list used for the control

Now I’m going to read you four things that sometimes make people angry or
upset. After I read all four, just tell me HOW MANY of them upset you. (I don’t
want to know which ones, just how many.)
(1) “the federal government increasing the tax on gasoline;”
(2) “professional athletes getting million-dollar-plus salaries;”
(3) “large corporations polluting the environment;”
(4) “a black family moving next door to you.”
How many, if any, of these things upset you?

edit: ninj’d by SV

I would have bought better masks if they were available. They weren’t for a good while. Even surgical type masks weren’t available for months.