I’ve written many times about the importance of “knowing where your data has been”. The most advanced discrete choice conjoint, segmentation or regression is only as good as the data it relies on. In the past I’ve written about many ways that we can bias respondents from question ordering to badly worded questions and even to push polling techniques. A new study published in Psychological Science would seem to indicate that bias can be created much more subtly than that.
Dr. Michael Reifen-Tagar and Dr. Orly Idan determined that you can reduce tension by relying on nouns rather than verbs. They are from Israel so they were not lacking in “high tension” things to ask. For example, half of respondents were asked their level of agreement (on a six point scale) with the “noun focused” statement “I support the division of Jerusalem” and the other half with the “verb focused” statement “I support dividing Jerusalem”.
Consistent and statistically significant differences were found with the verb form garnering less support than the noun form. Follow-up questions also indicated that those who saw the verb form were angrier and showed less support for concessions toward the Palestinians.
Is this a potential problem for researchers? My answer would be “potentially”.
The obvious example might be in published opinion polls. One can imagine a crafty person creating a questionnaire in which issues they agree with are presented in noun form (thus garnering higher agreement from the general public) and ones they disagree with in verb forms (thus garnering lower agreement). It is unlikely that anyone would challenge those results (except for those of you clever enough to read my blog).
It might also be the case on more consumer-oriented studies, though it is unclear whether the same effect would be felt in situations where tension levels are not so high. In our clients’ best interest, however, it makes sense to be consistent and with that eliminate another form of bias.