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Thread: Why you're probably wrong about general opinions...

  1. #1

    Default Why you're probably wrong about general opinions...

    I don't usually post threads with little more than a link to an article, but I found this rather fascinating as it's one of those little observations that might change the way in which you see the world.

    It's a simple example of how a small minority of popular people can influence the perceptions of the majority.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/sc...-a6689636.html

    Hope you find it as interesting as I did :-)

  2. #2

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    Yup. I think I've been saying the same thing in different ways on a lot of topics here....

  3. #3

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    It's an interesting new insight on Sample Bias. Usually, the issue is the members of a self-selecting minority thinking that their opinion is a majority, simply because everyone they know feels the same way - ignoring the fact that humans tend to choose to associate with people who hold similar views, so their friends are not a representative sample of the population. The idea that a majority might actually believe themselves to be in a minority, due to lack of personal interconnections is extremely interesting.

    Though it just illustrates the basic idea that people should make up their own minds about things, rather than being guided by the perceived opinions of others. Sadly though, Asch's conformity experiments show that people are all too easily influenced by the opinions of others.

    There's nothing more frustrating than seeing a newspaper headline like "survey shows that 80% of the population believe X, therefore the government should do Y", and knowing that some people will actually have their opinions changed by that, when the truth is that the response to the survey only consists of the small minority of readers of that particular newspaper who cared enough about the issue in question to send back the survey form.

  4. #4

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    It's similar to the way a small group can influence a large meeting being conducted under rules of order. You plant a few people around the room who are capable of speaking intelligently in support of your proposal while providing slightly different perspectives. Toss in a couple of people taking on the cheerleader role and the effect is potent. The idea is to disburse the group so it doesn't appear to be simply a special interest group.

  5. #5

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    Interesting article. Kinda obvious conclusion if you think about it, though I would note that it's has to do with how a minority of people influence perceptions and not actions. The study artificially required that everyone vote according to how the people they know would vote, even if that vote was against their own clearly held opinion. While I admit that many people do vote based on their peer group rather than investigating issues themselves, I think it's very unusual for someone to have an opinion and then vote opposite that opinion, so I think the study really is more influential in how undecided people make decisions, rather than how an entire population group would behave.



    Quote Originally Posted by Drifter View Post
    It's similar to the way a small group can influence a large meeting being conducted under rules of order. You plant a few people around the room who are capable of speaking intelligently in support of your proposal while providing slightly different perspectives. Toss in a couple of people taking on the cheerleader role and the effect is potent. The idea is to disburse the group so it doesn't appear to be simply a special interest group.
    Actually, this is something entirely different. It's true that group decision-making can often be persuaded by a number of apparently unrelated people all speaking up for the same decision and therefore the use of plants can influence action through deception, but that has to do with group decision-making techniques and not with imperfect information about what the population thinks.

  6. #6

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    I've noticed the phenomenon of political signs in local elections. There seems to be a segment of society that will vote for the candidate with the most signs because they want to vote for a winner, like rooting for the teams that have won the most World Series or Super Bowls. I think it falls under the same type of theory.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by dogboy View Post
    I've noticed the phenomenon of political signs in local elections. There seems to be a segment of society that will vote for the candidate with the most signs because they want to vote for a winner, like rooting for the teams that have won the most World Series or Super Bowls. I think it falls under the same type of theory.
    And somehow, the staggering amount of money that gets spent on political advertising in the US suddenly makes sense. That is seriously depressing.

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by Akastus View Post
    And somehow, the staggering amount of money that gets spent on political advertising in the US suddenly makes sense. That is seriously depressing.
    It is depressing because important decisions should be made based on research, not from outside factors.

  9. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by dogboy View Post
    It is depressing because important decisions should be made based on research, not from outside factors.
    For what it's worth, the important decisions are made by research, just not by the general population. The policy guys and the advisers who plan out political campaigns and write laws work and think very carefully. They research what's good and what's bad and decide what they think they can actually get done as well as what they think people will be willing to accept and then push for that.

    Sometimes, a decision is made that the only way to do something is to bring it before the general voters and have a major fight about it, where both sides spend tons of money on advertising and essentially waste everyone's time just to try and get a few undecided people over to them. But the reason that happens is that some very smart, careful people decided it was a fight worth fighting. And they may be smart careful people that you fundamentally and deeply disagree with. There are real divisions in policy and theory in the U.S. and the world right now. Look at some of the discussion Maxx and I have gotten involved in here. I think he's a very intelligent and thoughtful person, but we have some different base assumptions about how effective we think government can be in principle, about how people should be rewarded for their work and how different financial incentives work, and about who should be the ultimate decision-maker for lots of fundamental things in life like medical treatments and property rights.

    But that's cool, y'know. If we were all the same, the world would be way too boring.

  10. #10

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    I think it's interesting that politicians do have large staffs that do their research. I'm sure most of them are brilliant or they wouldn't be on staff. I've often thought the same, that liberals and conservatives approach the same problem from opposite perspectives. They used to compromise, making neither side happy, but not unhappy either. There seems to less of that these days.

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