The Debatable Reliability of Surveys
Are surveys reliable?
Can you trust that your surveys participants are behaving in a trustworthy manner? If not, can you even really use them? The growing popularity of research in psychology, neuroscience sociology, neuroscience, and data science has raised questions about the validity of the tools utilised previously to provide insights into the human decision-making process. As the world evolves and develops, things can’t happen the way they used to.
However, surveys have pretty much stayed the same for decades. They are generally considered a fool-proof method that is both affordable and beneficial for brands/companies. You essentially receive what it says on the tin.
Human nature is being curious about the world around us.
Notably, we’re curious about why people do things that they do. This is the driver for market research; this is what all of us in this industry connect through. The more we can understand others’ motivations and incentives more effectively, we’ll be able to help one another in our respective fields. We have learned that at the most fundamental levels, people’s beliefs and preferences determine the majority of actions in which they perform. They are the integral puzzle pieces that fit together to make up the influence of the human process of decisions.
Regrettably, the truth is that beliefs and preferences are often hidden from view.
Despite the many technological advancements, humankind hasn’t yet invented the technology that allows users to see inside each individual’s mind. To discover what they do think and what it is that makes them tick! Instead, we use what appears to be the best alternative to ask people what they believe in!
This is definitively what researchers call survey research. After all, the nature of questions is the action of asking.
The Integral Factor of Surveys: Honesty.
Survey research can only be deemed valid if individuals are honest about their beliefs and opinions.
The importance of surveys is directly related to this basic assumption. Unfortunately, individuals tend to lie, whether it be due to influence from others or likewise a fear of giving an unusual answer. Furthermore, some people do not care enough to open up. It is much easier to say a quick lie in some people’s eyes than divulge how they genuinely feel/believe. There is no reason to lie in many cases so that it can be helped.
Although, of course, there will always be a minority of respondents who will never follow the rules. Our main aim would be to make this minority as minute as possible.
Since individuals are free to lie about their opinions, it raises whether surveys provide an accurate picture of people’s beliefs and what they consider essential. Unfortunately, there’s evidence that surveys aren’t reliable and provide a biased picture. The issue is so widespread that there’s a whole set of research that focuses on what’s known as bias’.
There is an entire module dedicated to Survey Bias in consideration of surveys.
Can surveys be changed?
Altering surveys to solve the known issues hopefully is a good game plan. If there is anything that can be done, we would like to solve this to receive our best, most reliable results! There are a few things you can focus upon; the main problem to tackle initially would mainly be the previously mentioned Survey Bias. These consist of:
Sampling Bias –
This lays more in the hands of the actual researcher to handle. For example, suppose a researcher selects a particular handful of unrepresentative participants of the target audience. The answers will be skewed and won’t be reliable when applied to a larger audience. This can be solved by hiring a reputable recruitment company to recruit your participants. They will have more capability to recruit various individuals than being just restrained to your database. (If you are on a budget, we have a great recruitment price here at Vocal Views!)
Demand Characteristic Bias –
Concerns about participants being aware that they are in a kind of ‘interview setting’. Some individuals can feel pressured because of this and lie or alter the truth due to nerves. If people are not relaxed, they are less likely to share their true thoughts and panic. An excellent way to combat this is to ensure your survey feels very laid back, and pressure will do nothing but force your participants to squirm. Online surveys are excellent as it reduces the stress of having someone watch them.
Confirmation Bias –
Concerns the idea that respondents tend to agree with survey questions, even if they sway towards not agreeing. This is because it is easier to agree and not shake the boat, and some worry about answering negatively if it offends the researcher or affects their results. A way to solve this is to ensure that none of your questions are leading questions and avoid using simple “Yes” or “No” answers. Number scales have decreased confirmation bias as the solutions feel more ambiguous.
You can never eliminate bias or make your surveys 100% reliable, but you can improve them.
In surveys, there are no consequences for lying about yourself. The issue is more difficult since we tend to tell what people want to hear. As a result, the results of surveys based on preferences and beliefs can be difficult to avoid being highly biased. Any questions that rely on the use of value judgments or reporting can be prone to bias since they are subjective. However, as long as you keep in mind the points we have discussed, you can at least lower this and be assured you have done all you can to encourage honest answers.
In most cases, it is helpful to remind participants that their answers are what is moulding the specific product or service for people just like them. If they are not honest, they can’t possibly adjust the goods to be what they desire!
A good tool is to make the participants feel as valuable as they indeed are! An excellent way to do this is to incentivise your surveys. In this day and age, nobody will do free surveys. Not when paid options are abundant anyway. If someone decides to search for google surveys, they will go with the paid online surveys every time. Incentivising your participants will attract people to your surveys and attract your desired honesty. People will naturally put more time and dedication into a task, and they are also receiving something in return.