An article of faith among students of value, choice, and attitude judgments is that people have reasonably well-defined opinions regarding the desirability of various events. Although these opinions may not be intuitively formulated in numerical (or even verbal) form, careful questioning can elicit judgments representing people's underlying values. From this stance, elicitation procedures are neutral tools, bias-free channels that translate subjective feelings into scientifically usable expressions. They impose no views on respondents beyond focusing attention on those value issues of interest to the investigator.
What happens, however, in cases where people do not know, or have difficulty appraising, what they want? Under such circumstances, elicitation procedures may become major forces in shaping the values expressed, or apparently expressed, in the judgments they require. They can induce random error (by confusing the respondent), systematic error (by hinting at what the “correct” response is), or unduly extreme judgments (by suggesting clarity and coherence of opinion that are not warranted). In such cases, the method becomes the message. If elicited values are used as guides for future behavior, they may lead to decisions not in the decision maker's best interest, to action when caution is desirable (or the opposite), or to the obfuscation of poorly formulated views needing careful development and clarification.
The topic of this chapter is the confrontation between those who hold (possibly inchoate) values and those who elicit values.
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