LOADED QUESTIONS Entertaining or Dangerous?

Even our best friends can be jerks sometimes. Let's say you get a bad grade in a class and your snarky friend says: 'have you stopped cheating on tests?' Of course, you probably wouldn't say 'no,' which would imply you cheated on your most recent test. But if you were to simply answer 'yes,' you would be implying that you've most likely cheated on tests in the past. No matter what you say, it sounds like you've been cheating. Such interrogatives are known as complex or loaded questions, which are questions based on falsehoods or unfounded presumptions.

Loaded questions are a type of logical fallacy, a faulty course of reasoning. In the case of loaded questions, the interrogator's logic is flawed when he or she poses a question that is grounded in something that is speculative at best or patently untrue. Take, for instance: 'have you stopped cheating on tests?' The logical fallacy here is founded on the (probably) false assertion or assumption that you have been cheating on tests, most likely sometime in the recent past.

Questions like these are dangerous not only because they're based in falsehood but because they're also typically answerable only by 'yes' or 'no.' This presents a problem since these are also known as 'complex' questions because they commonly consist of multiple questions in one, thus their common Latin designation: plurium interrogationum, meaning 'from many questions.'

Looking again to the cheating question, maybe you never cheated on a test, so you want to say 'no,' but that simple answer isn't enough. You would have to say: 'no, I never cheated on any of my tests.' Say, however, you did answer 'yes.' You might then go on to explain that you've stopped cheating on tests, but you only did it once and it was a long time ago. In both cases, you had to add extra explanations.