Pychology of ‘question substitution’ helps to explain referendum campaign

May 30th 2012         –          Joe Humphreys        –         The Irish Times

…. When faced with a complex question involving uncertainty (and tomorrow’s poll falls slap-bang into that category) people unconsciously substitute it with an easier question and answer that one instead.

This proven psychological bias helped to earn psychologist Daniel Kahneman a Nobel Prize for economics. His research into “question substitution” has practical application for sales and marketing but also helps to explain why the referendum debate has been so disjointed.

It may also explain a peculiar phenomenon of this campaign: people frequently saying that the answer they would like to give on Thursday doesn’t match the question they are being offered.