The Bathroom Test
In my last post, I warned against assuming that survey responses are honest and reliable, even when they’re anonymous. Here’s your proof. I call it the Bathroom Test.
In any group, ask by show of hands how many people usually bother to wash their hands after using a public restroom. Odds are all hands will go up. No surprise there. Few people admit to unsavory habits when others are watching.
So, next, find a new group and allow everyone to answer the same question on an anonymous written form. Chances are between 40 and 60% will admit to not washing.
It’s safely anonymous, right? Before assuming as much, try one more test. Hang an “out of order” sign on the outside of a bathroom stall door, and then hide inside with your clipboard. (Don’t ask how I know this.) Count how many wash. Chances are you’ll find that about 80-90% skip.
Here’s the important part as it pertains to marketing research: Not everyone in an anonymous survey who claims to wash but doesn’t is lying. More likely, they are guilty of hindsight bias — looking back and remembering only the times they did wash.
The First Moral of the Story: In research, never count on what people say they do, or predict they’ll do. No one can do that with the least degree of reliability.
The Second Moral of the Story: Be choosy about whose hand you shake.