Look at Life: Surveys

22nd September 2017

Our Survey Says?

By Heather Harris

Crumbs! The deadliest biscuit in the UK is the custard cream. Who knew?

Luckily for safety-conscious snackers, the experts at market research firm Mindlab International have discovered that over 500 British workers landed themselves in hospital after injuring themselves during their tea break. Incidents ranged from eye-poking to being stuck in wet concrete after stepping out to pick up a dropped biscuit. And the cookie most likely to be involved was the custard cream. You have been warned.

Despite close questioning, it’s not clear who exactly funded this research or if United Biscuits intend to try and clear their product’s name – but cynics may assume it is to get the name of Mindlab talked about.

The same can be said of flight search company Skyscanner, who questioned hotel staff on the most ridiculous demands made by guests. The results ranged from a request to be served only the right legs of chickens, a demand for the provision of 15 cucumbers a day, and the insistence of a couple of insomniacs on 16 pillows (each? between them?) and the recorded sound of goat bells to help them nod off. No kidding (!). Do we really need to know this?

When it comes to surveys, we only have to go back to the 1930s to discover when someone first came up with the idea of asking people’s opinion as the standard tool for empirical research. Initially, information was collected by paper and pencil interviewing (presumably historically this was more successful than the poor chap with a clipboard on the High Street this morning, whom shoppers were sprinting past faster than he could say ‘excuse me, have you got a…?’).

Online surveys, though, are now the research tool of choice. Every time we use or buy a product or service the chance of a follow-up survey landing in our in-box is annoyingly high. It’s just one frustration that has promoted Britain to the ‘global leader at swearing’, according to a survey (of course)which placed our foul-mouthed country just ahead of Germany.

The fact is that surveys are a cheap way of creating headlines – who can forget that eight out of ten cats prefer Whiskas. And they are easy to manipulate. The surveys, not the cats.

Ask any psychologist and he or she will quickly demonstrate how leading questions can be asked to prompt the desired response. How many of us would confess honestly to eating ‘more than four takeaways in a week’, for example, or ‘preferring to sleep with our pet than our partner’ or ‘lying about our exam results on our CV’ – all of which were recent headline-grabbing survey results.

Ex-PM David Cameron recognised that there was nothing like a survey to spin a few positive headlines. He was the man behind a £2 million ‘well-being’ survey in 2012 to measure the nation’s ‘happiness’. Ove six months the Office for National Statistics asked 200,000 people four subjective questions about their general state of satisfaction. And the headline grabbing result… ‘People who are married, have jobs and own their own homes are the most likely to be satisfied with their lives, the first national well-being survey says’. Oh, and there’s more… ‘Teenagers and those above retirement age are the happiest’. Mr Cameron himself was positively ecstatic, telling the BBC that his survey had produced ‘crucial findings… although the Labour Party, meanwhile, was less cheery, describing the costly survey as a ‘statement of the bleeding obvious’.

This same accusation could be levied at a recent study looking at the most likely survey results. Top of the pile came the fact that ‘men are most swayed by looks when it comes to choosing a mate’. This shocking conclusion was discovered by staging a speed-dating event and asking the participants their honest opinions.

And ‘boys prefer cars’ – a conclusion reached after carefully assessing the responses of a group of mixed toddlers faced with toy cars, balls, teddy bears and dolls, and noting that boys preferred anything with four wheels, while girls picked anything with faces.

Reassuringly perhaps, we also learned that ‘prisoners don’t like prison’. According to a police satisfaction survey, aimed at finding out the general morale of prisoners, those questioned reported that ‘it’s not always comfortable [and] the food is rubbish’.

And finally, a ground-breaking study by Drinkaware found that ‘after a bad day, people head to the bottle to help them feel better and women tend to go for wine while men go for beer.’

If this wasn’t evidence enough that the survey has had its day then look no further than the ultimate question of all: ‘Remain or Leave?’

Without question, that one really did take the biscuit.

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