Respondents’ Self-Learning in Surveys as a Factor of Forbid/Allow Asymmetry in Public Opinion Research

Respondents’ Self-Learning in Surveys as a Factor of Forbid/Allow Asymmetry in Public Opinion Research

Babich N.S.

Cand. Sci. (Sociol.), Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Sociology of FCTAS RAS; Assoc. Prof., Department of Sociology, RUDN University Moscow, Russia

Batykov I.V.

Cand. Sci. (Sociol.), Head of the Laboratory of Sociological Expertise, Institute of Sociology of FCTAS RAS, Moscow, Russia.

ID of the Article: 8372

For citation:

Babich N.S., Batykov I.V. Respondents’ Self-Learning in Surveys as a Factor of Forbid/Allow Asymmetry in Public Opinion Research. Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniya [Sociological Studies]. 2020. No 11. P. 39-47


Answers to specific survey questions about the legal prohibition of some actions do not provide results opposite to questions on allowing. Respondents would rather not approve the forbidding of action than approve its allowing. This asymmetry is manifested systematically and can acquire scales that affect the conclusions of sociological research and decisions made on its basis. The article considers a hypothesis explaining the forbid/allow asymmetry by self-learning. Respondents who do not know exactly whether certain actions are allowed or forbidden, extract additional information from the wording of the question (if it proposes a forbidding, therefore, there is an allowing, and vice versa), after which they give an answer based on general political attitudes. Compared with other explanations, a greater correspondence of the self-learning hypothesis to empirical data is shown. To test it, a split ballot survey methodical experiment was also conducted. Within its framework, one group of respondents was asked about consent to the forbidding of advertising of medicines of clinically unproven efficacy, and the other about consent to the allowing of such advertising. An analysis of the differences between the groups showed the existence of an asymmetry and a significant group of respondents who admitted that they learned about the state of affairs with the mentioned advertising from the wording of the question. After the influence of this group was taken into account, the asymmetry disappeared. This result, together with the findings of the comparative analysis, allows us to assert with a high degree of certainty that the selflearning hypothesis today is the best explanation for the forbid/allow asymmetry.

public opinion polls; question wording; forbid/allow asymmetry; influence of question wording on respondents’ answers; decision making; questionnaire design


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Content No 11, 2020