Time pressure makes people give socially-desirable answers

Washington D.C.: While time pressure makes people answer in a hurry, they are more likely to utter what is socially desirable rather than the truth. Researchers in a study have claimed that answers to quick and impulsive questions are favoured instead of honest, due to time pressure.

The findings were published in -- Psychological Science - and raised questions about a time-honoured experimental technique, said John Protzko, a University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) cognitive scientist who co-led the study with colleague Claire Zedelius.

"The method of 'answer quickly and without thinking', a long staple in psychological research, may be doing many things, but one thing it does is make people lie to you and tell you what they think you want to hear," Protzko said. "This may mean we have to revisit the interpretation of a lot of research findings that use the 'answer quickly' technique. The idea has always been that we have a divided mind -- an intuitive, animalistic type and a more rational type," he continued.

"And the more rational type is assumed to always be constraining the lower order mind. If you ask people to answer quickly and without thinking, it's supposed to give you sort of secret access to that lower-order mind," he said.

To test this assumption, researchers devised a test of 10 simple yes-or-no questions, such as "I sometimes feel resentful when I don't get my way," and "No matter who I'm talking to, I'm always a good listener." Through a survey, respondents were asked to take fewer than 11 seconds, or alternatively, more than 11 seconds to answer each question.

They found that the fast-answering group was more likely to give socially-desirable answers, while the slow answerers and the ones who were not given any time constraints (fast or slow) were less likely to do so, Protzko said. In a subsequent experiment, the researchers set out to learn whether people tend to give socially acceptable responses under time pressure because they view themselves as genuinely virtuous -- a phenomenon referred to as the good-true-self bias.

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