Matt Hay
Matt Hay 9 March 2022

Porky Polls: People Lie in Surveys, So How Do You Get to the Facts?

How many times have you embellished your answer when a survey asks how regularly you exercise or how many units of alcohol you drink per week? When it comes to market research, and surveys in particular, how do you know if respondents aren’t doing the same?

There aren’t many studies examining how frequently people lie. It is lunacy to assume that respondents will truthfully answer questions about how truthful they are. Neither is it socially desirable to brand yourself a liar – even in an anonymous questionnaire. Nevertheless, a report published some years ago by ORB International, a data shop, tried to determine how many of us fib in questionnaires.

While researchers found that 80% of people in the UK say they always provide truthful answers to surveys, respondents had a lower opinion of others. Just nine per cent said they were prepared to trust published polls.
This anecdote is familiar to people in the business of gathering sentiment for policy or market research. People generally think that they are truthful, while others are not. And on the latter point, they are correct. When it comes to revealing details about themselves, very rarely do respondents tell the whole truth.

Value-Action Gap

There is a perceivable disconnect between what people do, and what they say they do. This pertains to any action that is connected to ethics, aspiration or self-worth. In recent years, the most pronounced example of this can be found in research on how much people do to care for the environment.

While everyone would agree that they care deeply about the myriad issues facing the planet, this sentiment probably doesn’t match up with how often individuals recycle, engage in environmental activism, or spend more on green products.
Market research giant GfK refers to this sort of thing as a value-action gap. In a global study - called Who Cares, Who Does - in collaboration with Europanel and Kantar, it found that 65% of consumers try to buy products that are packaged more sustainably. However, only 29% regularly manage to avoid plastic packaging.
Separately, Kantar found that people overestimate how much they engage in socially desirable activities, exaggerating how much they vote, recycle or opt for organic produce at the supermarket. Meanwhile, they downplay how often they smoke, binge on fast food or watch reality TV.

Empathic Surveys

There is a way to inspire more truthful answers. Very simply, it is to design questionnaires that inspire less shame from respondents. Someone who enjoys a cigarette only occasionally and in social scenarios might not label themselves a “smoker” if they are asked in a survey.

They are more likely to give a straight answer with options such as “I am currently cutting down” or “I only smoke sometimes”. Giving people the opportunity to make excuses for themselves gets more truthful answers, but more detailed ones too.
Another technique is called deflection priming. This is like a qualitative warm up act, when you ask one question to lay the groundwork for a truthful answer to the next. For instance, many are tempted in surveys to exaggerate the level of education they had, saying that they attended university when they did not, according to Jon Puleston, a researcher at Kantar.

The solution, he writes, is to create a soft intro to the hard question. So instead of asking “did you attend university?” in the first instance, first you ask, “did you enjoy school?”. This helps people give a truthful answer, because it explains – partially – why they did not attend higher education.

As it becomes more crucial for brands to cut to the truth of why people spend, those who design studies will need to get better at spotting the lies in statistics.

At Bulbshare, our researchers are well-versed in creating surveys that encourage truth - and we use in-built functionality that encourages instinctive responses and more accurate data.

Please login or register to add a comment.

Contribute Now!

Loving our articles? Do you have an insightful post that you want to shout about? Well, you've come to the right place! We are always looking for fresh Doughnuts to be a part of our community.

Popular Articles

See all
‘Complainer marketing’ – should we harness rage to promote brands?

‘Complainer marketing’ – should we harness rage to promote brands?

As marketers, we're always looking to get the best results for our clients. But should we highjack the emotions of their customers to do so? No, as I explain in this post, you're better than that.

Tom Chapman
Tom Chapman 18 July 2018
Read more
How AI is Revolutionizing E-commerce and Online Shopping

How AI is Revolutionizing E-commerce and Online Shopping

In recent years, the world of e-commerce and online shopping has experienced a significant transformation thanks to the advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Andrea Crook
Andrea Crook 14 August 2023
Read more
Streaming Society: The Social Impact of Live Streaming in the Digital Age

Streaming Society: The Social Impact of Live Streaming in the Digital Age

This article delves into the social impact of livestreaming, analyzing its influence on communication patterns, community formation, celebrity culture, mental health, and economic opportunities.

Sim Johnsons
Sim Johnsons 1 September 2023
Read more
Accelerate Your Content Creation Process With These Valuable Tips

Accelerate Your Content Creation Process With These Valuable Tips

As a writer, you must accelerate your process with timely, quality content. Read this post for content creation tips.

Dave Brown
Dave Brown 16 August 2023
Read more
Bridging the Digital Divide: The Next Frontier in Employee Communication

Bridging the Digital Divide: The Next Frontier in Employee Communication

While marketers are seamlessly connected to the world of work via our computers and mobile phones, some 80% of the global workforce operates outside the confines of a traditional desk.

Nick Watt
Nick Watt 12 September 2023
Read more