Quantum theory reveals puzzling pattern in how people respond to some surveys

Jun 16, 2014 by Jeff Grabmeier

Researchers used quantum theory – usually invoked to describe the actions of subatomic particles – to identify an unexpected and strange pattern in how people respond to survey questions.

By conventional standards, the results are surprising: The scientists found the exact same pattern in 70 nationally representative surveys from Gallup and the Pew Research center taken from 2001 to 2011, as well as in two laboratory experiments. Most of the national surveys included more than 1,000 respondents in the United States.

"Human behavior is very sensitive to context. It may be as context sensitive as the actions of some of the particles that quantum physicists study," said Zheng Wang, lead author of the study and associate professor of communication at The Ohio State University.

"By using , we were able to predict a surprising regularity in human behavior with unusual accuracy for the social sciences in a large set of different surveys."

The study appears online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Wang conducted the study with Tyler Solloway of Ohio State, and Richard Shiffrin and Jerome Busemeyer of Indiana University.

These new findings involved an issue that has long faced researchers using survey data or any self-report data: question-order effects. Scientists have known that the order in which some questions are asked on a survey can change how people respond. That's why survey organizations normally change the order of questions between different respondents, hoping to cancel out this effect.

"Researchers have thought of these question-order effects as some kind of unexplainable carry-over effects or noise," Wang said. "But our results suggest that some of these effects may not be mere nuisance, but actually are something more essential to human behavior."

Take, for example, one of the surveys used in the study. This was a Gallup poll that asked Americans, among other questions, whether Bill Clinton was honest and trustworthy and whether Al Gore was honest and trustworthy.

The survey changed the order in which these questions were asked between respondents and, as expected, there were question-order effects found. When respondents were asked about Clinton first, 49 percent said that both Clinton and Gore were trustworthy. But when respondents were asked about Gore first, 56 percent said that both were trustworthy.

The pattern that quantum theory predicted – and that the researchers found – was that the number of people who switch from "yes-yes" to "no-no" when the question order is reversed must be offset by the number of people who switch in the opposite direction.

Indeed, in this case, the number of people who said "no-no" – that both Clinton and Gore were not trustworthy – went from 28 percent when the Clinton question was asked first to 21 percent when Gore was asked about first.

That 7 percent decline essentially cancels out the 7 percent increase in the number of people who said "yes-yes" when the question order was reversed.

Likewise, the number of people who switched from "yes-no" to "no-yes" was offset by the number of people who switched in the opposite direction.

The researchers called this phenomenon "quantum question equality." They found it in every one of the surveys studied.

"When you think about it from our normal perspective, the finding is very bizarre," Wang said. "There's no reason to expect that people would always change their responses in such a systematical way, from survey to survey to create this pattern."

But from a quantum perspective, the finding makes perfect sense, Wang said. "It is exactly what we would have predicted from quantum theory. We mathematically derived this precise prediction of quantum question equality from quantum theory before we looked at any data. This had to be true if our theory is right."

It had to be true according to what is called the law of reciprocity in quantum theory, she said. Like much of quantum theory, the law of reciprocity is complex and difficult for most people to understand. But it has to do with the transition from one state of a system to another. In this case, the transition is from a state answering questions about Clinton to a new state answering questions about Gore.

Wang said that quantum question equality explains only this very specific situation in which two questions are asked back-to-back with no other information given in between.

The researchers illustrate the difference with the example of another national survey, not among the 70 studied, that asked whether disgraced former baseball players Pete Rose and "Shoeless" Joe Jackson should be admitted to the Baseball Hall of Fame. The order in which people were asked about the two players was varied to deal with the question-order effects. But the results from this survey didn't show, as predicted by the researchers, the pattern found in the 70 surveys in the study.

That's because in between asking each question, the surveyors introduced new information by explaining to participants who these baseball players were and why there was a controversy about whether they should be admitted to the Hall of Fame.

"The simple fact that participants were given new information affects how they answer and means that quantum question equality won't hold true for cases like this," she said.

Wang said one of the most important aspects of the study was that quantum theory allowed the researchers to attain a level of exactitude rarely found when studying .

"Usually, in the social sciences we're talking about parameters: If we can predict that one factor is always larger or smaller than another, we consider that a strong finding," she said.

"But here we found a quite precise answer that is always nearly zero – the number of people who switch an answer one way are always offset by the number of people who switch in the opposite direction. That number never changed. In other words, their difference is always nearly zero. And that level of exactness is almost never found in social science research."

The larger question brought up by this study is "why?" Why must the number of people who switch from "yes-yes" to "no-no" when question order is reversed be offset by the number of people who switch in the opposite direction?

Wang said there is nothing yet proposed in standard psychological theory that would explain why this is true.

"People may reason according to different rules other than standard probability that are commonly used in social sciences. Our findings support the idea that people reason according to quantum rules instead."

Explore further: Researchers find nondestructive method to study quantum wave systems

More information: Paper: Context effects produced by question orders reveal quantum nature of human judgments, PNAS, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1407756111

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OdinsAcolyte
not rated yet Jun 16, 2014
Makes sense. Emergent behavior from quantum mechanics.
Dr_toad
Jun 16, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Jantoo
1 / 5 (3) Jun 16, 2014
Emergent behavior from quantum mechanics.
I'd rather say, that the quantum mechanics has its origin in the emergent character of the space-time, than vice-versa. In my model the same emergent geometry can describe both quantum mechanics, both general relativity with a single geometry - it's therefore more general and the quantum mechanics and general relativity perspectives are special examples (low-dimensional multiverse slices) of it. Also, the quantum mechanics is quite mysterious for many people, whereas the emergent mechanics is understandable easily. We can already model the quantum mechanics with emergent models - but not vice-versa. If nothing else, we can met it in real life at many places and the explanatory causality arrow therefore points from emergence to quantum. You can only explain the phenomena distant from human observer scale with physics, which you're familiar with - but not vice-versa.
Modernmystic
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 16, 2014
If you can predict these kinds of things to this degree of accuracy dealing with complex and dependent (fourth or fifth tier) concepts...it casts some serious doubt on the ideas of free will and what consciousness is.
Jantoo
4 / 5 (4) Jun 16, 2014
The pattern that quantum theory predicted – and that the researchers found – was that the number of people who switch from "yes-yes" to "no-no" when the question order is reversed must be offset by the number of people who switch in the opposite direction
Why not, but why just the quantum mechanics should be used for the explanation? Maybe I missed something, but isn't the exact symmetry just the result, which one could expect from simple symmetry of Gaussian distribution? Is such symmetrical result surprising and unexpected in some way? If not, why to introduce the quantum mechanics into it?
Jantoo
1 / 5 (1) Jun 16, 2014
Scientists have known that the order in which some questions are asked on a survey can change how people respond. That's why survey organizations normally change the order of questions between different respondents, hoping to cancel out this effect.
If they know about it, how it does prove, that the quantum mechanics must be behind it? You could derive such a result ab-initio from random statistics. IMO it just proves the validity of random statistics, which is definitely simpler and more fundamental, than rather ad-hoced quantum mechanics, which is deduced from experiments and based on physical constants, which aren't predictable otherwise. IMO researchers confused analogy with homology and their work doesn't actually prove, that the quantum mechanics is involved.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (2) Jun 16, 2014
IMO it just proves the validity of random statistics, which is definitely simpler and more fundamental, than rather ad-hoced quantum mechanics, which is deduced from experiments and based on physical constants, which aren't predictable otherwise. IMO researchers confused analogy with homology and their work doesn't actually prove, that the quantum mechanics is involved.


Except they said they used quantum theory, not random statistics or any other strictly mathematical model. It would be a monumental coincidence if you could derive quantum theory from studying how human beings responded to polls...
ojeleku
1 / 5 (2) Jun 17, 2014
the truth that co teng many doubts regarding the experiment,
George_Rajna
Jun 17, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Sikla
Jun 17, 2014
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
Modernmystic
1 / 5 (2) Jun 17, 2014
They didn't derive the quantum theory, they just illustrated one of its theorems, which has its roots in statistics, not quantum theory as such.


I know they didn't derive it, but they COULD have. Just like they did derive it by study of nature, they could have gotten the equations they use by simply studying human polls the same way. THAT was my point, you can't say they just used statistics because they didn't. Move on.

If you demonstrate, that the law of free fall follows the general relativity, you just ignored, that exactly this law has been used in its derivation. Anyway, it has no meaning to discuss it with people, who don't recognize the difference.


Indeed.

In any case if they'd used a purely mathematical model they'd have said so. They didn't, so they didn't. To ignore the implications that they used quantum theory and not another purely mathematical framework is to miss the entire point of the article.
Sikla
Jun 17, 2014
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Modernmystic
1 / 5 (1) Jun 17, 2014
I didn't miss this point, I'm just criticizing it. Does it mean, every statistical phenomena is the demonstration of quantum mechanics once someone will use the reciprocity law of quantum theory for it, after then?


I suppose it does if the reciprocity law gives them such accurate predictions about whatever phenomena is under study. Maybe it does mean that instead of a purely mathematical framework the truth is more complicated. Obviously it must be if they get better results with quantum theory than a purely statistical framework....

Why they hope in it if it's no reason to expect it?


There isn't a reason to expect people will change their responses in a statistical way, that's why they change the order of the questions, in order to try to average out the bias. They have to do this with statistics because statistics doesn't include reciprocity. Quantum mechanics has it inherently.
bluehigh
not rated yet Jun 17, 2014
Perhaps the knowledge of the existence of quantum theory has influenced the researchers?


Rupert Sheldrake would characterise that as Morphic Resonance.
Dr_toad
Jun 17, 2014
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marraco
5 / 5 (1) Jun 17, 2014
It's not possible to know simultaneously the right question and the right answer. There is an inherent uncertainty modulated by Murphy's conservation laws.
EWH
5 / 5 (1) Jun 21, 2014
These hypothetical fundamental socio-psychological quanta need a name, something like electron, photon...
How about: "person"?
otero
Jun 21, 2014
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