up on an interesting
study, which shows that “Simply asking college students who
are inclined to take drugs about their illegal-drug use in a survey may
increase the behavior.” It is a finding that makes
researchers nervous, presumably because they do not want to encourage
It turns out that the effect was only seen in those persons who already
were inclined to use drugs. It seems doubtful that
participating in the survey actually resulted in any new cases of drug
abuse or dependence disorders, even if it did prompt some instances of
The comment thread picks up on the theme of how participation in polls
can influence behavior. The title of this post was taken from
a comment by Hamsterbaffle, referring to the idea that it is difficult
to observe a person, or social system, without changing the behavior of
the person or society. That generally is an unwanted,
However, in some cases, this is a deliberate intention of the people
running the poll. Eric gave an example of a supposed
poll that was used to tarnish the reputation of John McCain,
by asking leading questions.
The bottom line is that we all need to be vigilant
of the myriad ways that unscrupulous people can manipulate others.
It is an interesting exercise in mindfulness, to go through a day,
introspectively, tying to notice all the things that people do to try
to influence you. Often, this is done by subtle suggestion
that prompts you to draw an unfounded conclusion of some sort.
It is equally interesting to observe yourself, trying to notice all the
times that you try to influence others, without making it clear that
there is something you want.
In this case, I want the readers of ScienceBlogs to learn to be more
perceptive of manipulation. I also want people to make an
effort to be less manipulative themselves.