lost-letter technique

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An unobtrusive measure of attitudes in which stamped addressed envelopes are scattered in public places, as if left by accident, the proportion being posted by members of the public and turning up at the addresses on the envelopes providing a crude index of attitudes in the community. For example, if half the envelopes are addressed to a pro-abortion organization and half to an anti-abortion organization, and if equal numbers of pro-abortion and anti-abortion envelopes are distributed but significantly more of the anti-abortion envelopes are returned, then it may be concluded that members of the community are more favourably disposed towards the anti-abortion than the pro-abortion cause. The technique was introduced by the US psychologist Stanley Milgram (1933–84) and colleagues in an article in the journal Public Opinion Quarterly in 1965.

Subjects: Psychology.

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