And The Survey Says...

Psychology is not a hard science. It's a soft science at best and a LOT of studies are flat out garbage.

A lot of studies rely on self-reporting of behavior and some studies done that way consistently get results that seem rather implausible. For example, such studies about sex tend to say that EVERYONE is having orgies, threesomes and other wild sex.

That seems highly unlikely.

One possible explanation: The "wild child" people LIKE bragging about it and are more likely to sign up for sex surveys than more conservative people who value their privacy. Alternately, people are just straight up lying for various reasons.

I was on an email list years ago and someone said "I can't access the thing without filling out a survey" and some white guy in his fifties said something like "I enjoy being a 19 year old black woman with a Phd on such surveys".

Microsoft Rewards does a lot of little surveys. They recently asked if people had vinyl records and something like 85 percent of people said YES, I do. That survey soon repeated, which might mean they thought that result was squirrelly or might be a glitch.

I suspect they thought it was squirrelly because soon thereafter they then did a survey that said something like "please click the bottom answer" and the top answer was "I'm just here for the points." A lot of people apparently don't read their daily survey at all and just click the top answer by default. MOST of their daily surveys ends up with "The top answer wins by a country mile."

Furthermore, a lot of their daily surveys are questions like "Which of these two movies did you like better?" with no option to say "I've never heard of EITHER of these movies." So it's hardly shocking that some people just don't bother to read it, click the FIRST answer -- whatever it happens to be -- and move on.

It's HARD to design a good and meaningful survey about ANYTHING. If you are putting out surveys where people can only tell you "I like THIS movie more than THAT movie" and cannot say "Never heard of either." then when you repeat your survey data "80 percent prefer THIS movie" it's nonsense.

If you are doing it for fun, cool. Whatever. If you are doing it hoping to get meaningful marketing info, the above approach is extremely broken.

Someone I knew used to say something like "It's a when did you stop beating your wife? question". In other words, it's a GOTCHA. You cannot answer "I never beat my wife." You can answer "I never stopped....(because I never beat her)" and the police officer notes "AH, STILL beats his wife. NEVER STOPPED."

In politics, almost everyone is pro choice and anti abortion. If you want to pass a law to keep abortion legal, you ask people if they are for women having reproductive rights and control over their bodies. If you want to pass a law to outlaw abortion, you ask if they are for murdering unborn babies.

People can genuinely be FOR a woman's right to choose and also feel that abortion should be the absolute last resort. In fact, that's pretty much how most people seem to feel about it: They don't like abortion but think a woman should have the option if she's in a real pickle.

But SURVEYS with political agendas carefully word it to get the answer the politicians WANT to hear in order to support an agenda.

It's inherently hard to design good studies and it's worse for social things. In the good news column, there ARE ways to get more reliable bits of info about what people want than asking them.

Here's one finding: When men have the hots for a celebrity, their first search is for nudes of her. When women have the hots for a celebrity, their first search is his relationship status. They want to know is he married or does he have a girlfriend?

These online searches are done with an expectation of privacy -- that only THEY will know what they searched for. So these people aren't trying to social signal or something like that. This is a reliable signal of a genuine difference between men and women.

You can debate WHY they do it differently. (Is that biology? Is it lifelong social pressure?) But you can count on the fact that this is a real difference between men and women.

If you are doing community development work, you are probably a social creature. As such, you may feel you need to talk to people and ask their opinions to do your community development work well. In fact, you may be putting too much time and effort into talking with the people.

Actions speak louder than words, so observing behavior is generally a more reliable metric than asking people their opinion. If you do community development work, then your job is finding better answers than lay people can dream up off the cuff if put on the spot and asked some poorly-worded question.

Don't get too hung up about that. It's not wise to view that as you simply "deciding for them."
If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.
-- Henry Ford

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