A leading question is a question which subtly prompts the respondent to answer in a particular way. Leading questions are generally undesirable as they result in false or slanted information. For example:
The difference in the above example is minor but in some situations it can be more important. For example, in a court case:
Obtaining Responses to Suit the Edit
In journalism, leading questions can be used in various ways. For example, a journalist might want a particular type of answer to edit alongside some other content. This can be good or bad, as illustrated by the following example.
A hypothetical journalist is doing a story on the moon hoax theory1. First of all the journalist gets the following statement from an advocate of the theory:
"Photographs of the moon landing show converging shadows were they should be parallel. This could only happen in a studio so the photos must be fake."
The journalist then interviews a NASA engineer. This response will be edited to appear immediately after the accusation. There are several ways to ask the question, each with very different results:
Of course the ethical journalist will avoid using leading questions to mislead.
Children are particularly susceptible to leading questions. Studies have shown that children are very attuned to taking cues from adults and tailoring their answers based on the way questions are worded2.
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(1) The theory that NASA never really landed on the moon. For information see www.dave.co.nz/space/moon-hoax.
(2) Ceci, 1994; Ceci & Bruck, 1993a, 1993b; Ceci, Loftus, Leichtman, & Bruck, 1994; Leichtman & Ceci, in press; Clarke-Stewart, Thompson, & Lepore, 1989; Haugaard & Alhusen, 1992; Thompson, Clarke-Stewart, Meyer, Pathak, & Lepore, 1991