Mike Hart, Eric Van Epps, Van Epps discussed on Freakonomics Radio


Good sport. But Our goal today is not to ask questions that are outright offensive. It is to figure out what turns a regular question into a sensitive one and whether it is still worth asking. We should probably start by thinking about why we ask questions period. There are many reasons You want information? You're curious. Maybe you're bored. Maybe you're really interested in the person you're talking to, or at least one a signal that you're interested. Or maybe your question is meant to signal that you yourself are an interesting person. Asking questions about questions. This is something enough heart and her academic collaborators enjoy. Yeah, Apparently, her collaborators in this case are I'm Eric Van Epps. I'm an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Utah. I'm re Schweitzer, professor at the Wharton School. Mike Hart, Van Epps and Schweitzer both grew up in the U. S. Schweitzer in California, Van Epps, mostly in Nebraska. I think Nebraska fits into this category of Midwest Nice where were often pretty uncomfortable sharing a lot of information or asking a lot of questions when you move across even places in the U. S let alone overseas. They're different norms of conversation and what tends to be sensitive and potentially offensive. We had long conversations about ways to study different norms where In many parts of the world, asking questions like when are you plan to have kids? Why aren't you married yet? How much money do you earn? Questions that for Americans might seem very sensitive in other places would not be. There's very little research that actually looks at what questions people are, in fact, willing to ask. As a researcher. This represents a gorgeous stretch of virgin territory with important consequences. How do we navigate these tradeoffs between the information we want and actually not? Sending or annoying someone else so heart, Schweitzer and Van Epps said about to conduct a study that could examine the types of questions that people feel comfortable and uncomfortable asking. What it would take to get people ask more uncomfortable questions and what would happen if they did. The first thing they had to do was determined. What exactly is a sensitive question? Yeah, we use the definition that sensitive questions are questions about topics that are uncomfortable to discuss. Are inappropriate for the social context or are about information that respondents would rather keep private. Okay, so that's a definition but which questions would've given person consider inappropriate, for instance. To find out. The researchers ran surveys on the mechanical Turk crowd sourcing platform better known as M. Turk. It is hardly the most representative sample in the world, but This is how a lot of research is done these days. The researchers asked participants to rank a variety of questions from least two most sensitive. Let's see how you would rank them. Here's one batch of questions. What do you think about the weather? Have you remote along on? How do you get to work? Are you a morning person? And here's another batch. Have you ever had financial problems? Have you ever had an affair? How much is your salary? Do you or have you ever gone to therapy? E. Imagine those people listening. Have this crunchy feeling about other asking these or being asked these and that's what we're trying to get up. Once the researchers had a pool of questions, ranked by sensitivity, they were ready to test them with what turned out to be a serious of five experiments, the first one again using participants from M. Turk. Started 360 people in two pairs that would have online conversations by text. Half of them would ask questions. The other half would answer. The ask Ear's were then split into three groups and had to pick their questions from the pool of questions that had already been ranked by sensitivity. Essentially, we forced them to pick questions of other mostly sensitive mostly not sensitive or something of a mix in the middle. The research subjects were then asked to predict how their conversation partners felt about being asked these questions. And then we also had their counterpart after they had the conversation rate. How uncomfortable that conversation was. This was something the researchers would do throughout the whole syriza of experiments. We wanted to see what do people think would happen if they ask sensitive questions and by what would happen? I mean, what would the other person feel? And what would the other person's think about them? In this experiment, people were not particularly uncomfortable asking sensitive questions and the respondents, comfort levels were fairly similar across the three conditions. Remember, these are anonymous. Online text conversations between M. Tucker's who didn't know each other would likely never communicate again. The second experiment still using em, Turk Added a pair of wrinkles. The first was the use of financial incentives, although they were so tiny less than a dollar that you have to wonder how powerful they would be. The second wrinkle was the introduction of what are called impression management concerns. So all the times when we approach interactions, be they with strangers with friends with bosses. We want to leave a good impression. You want the other side to think nice, positive things about you. And you don't want them to think that you're a terrible person or that you're really annoying. In this experiment, there were three groups of question NASCAR's the first group would be paid more if their conversation partner thought better of them by the end of the experiment. The second group would be paid more if they made their partner uncomfortable, and the third group was the control condition, which was not assigned a conversational goal. What we see is that people when they were incentivized to create discomfort. Shows almost all sensitive questions. You're asking about abortion and about sexual preferences about bank accounts, everything and how about the group that was paid to leave a good impression? They stuck to neutral, safe topics. What about the control group? People in the control condition were very close to the good impression condition, which suggests that people even if not given any specific goal, are thinking very much about the impression and not so much about the interesting sense of conversation. This result may not surprise you. Most of us want other people to like us, and it would seem obvious that warm or likable if we don't ask sensitive questions. On the other hand, these were anonymous virtual conversations. You might think it's simply be more interesting, more fun to ask the so called sensitive questions. But this experiment suggests that most people don't think that way or perhaps that we're so conditioned to not essence of questions that even when allowed, we don't there a lot of things that could affect whether people choose a sensitive questions. People can have a life goals when they enter into a conversation so country had we incentivize people to have a more interesting conversation or to get as much information as they can. That would also potentially people to prefer sense of questions over new girl ones. Or if you want to amuse yourself or amused the other person that could also affect what questions you asked for. The next experiment, the researchers recruited a couple 100 students from the University of Pennsylvania. All the participants had to do was select the questions they were going to ask a conversation partner again from the pool of questions ranked by sensitivity. Five of these questions were ranked as sensitive. The wrinkle Here was, some participants were told their conversations would happen in person and some online Once again, there were financial incentives 30 or 40 cents for each sensitive question they chose versus just five or 10 cents for a non sensitive question again the money So tiny. It's hard to imagine, at least for me that it would matter much The fact that they could have earned you know a few extra dollars. Yeah, I think that's a modest incentive in this case. Still, you do get paid three or four times as much for picking sensitive question. So what happened? Importantly, in both conditions, people are leaving money on the table, so to speak. Most people are not choosing to ask all five sensitive questions and maximize.

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