New research: 64% of personality traits bias survey responses

I recently took part in a fascinating webinar hosted by the MRS titled “Customer Advocacy – is it all about service or are we failing to see the bigger picture?”. The research presented by Matthew Palframan at YouGov found that certain behavioural traits, such as advocacy, influenced how people responded to questions about brands. One example of their findings was that First Direct was rated as having better overall service than Yorkshire Bank. However, customers at First Direct were also more satisfied with their life (74%) than Yorkshire Bank customers (54%). This made me wonder whether the ratings given to products in general are a true reflection of their value, or whether they are biased by their customers’ personality traits.

To investigate the possibility that personality traits may affect the way people respond to online market research studies, Mindlab ran an online quantitative experiment testing whisky brands, consisting of our signature System 1 and System 2 testing.

We tested a representative sample of 200 UK-based whisky drinkers. We first measured participants on 28 personality traits, including energy, extraversion, curiosity and honesty. We then asked them a range of questions about popular whisky brands, such as whether certain words were associated with certain brands, and whether or not they would like to purchase a certain product.

We found that 64% of the personality traits we tested were shown to affect survey responses, yielding noticeable differences in how participants reacted to product designs. In particular:

  • People with high levels of energy were more likely to agree with the questions we asked. For example, they were more likely to indicate that a word was associated with a product, or to say that they would purchase a product. People with low levels of enthusiasm and energy were less likely to agree with our questions or recommend a product.
  • Honesty and humility were found to be good indicators of how long someone will take to complete a test – the higher the level of honesty and humility, the longer they will take, suggesting they are much more likely to engage with questions and tasks conscientiously, rather than rush through.
  • Extreme answers – highly positive or highly negative – were correlated with high levels of adventurousness, collectivism, extroversion, patience, enthusiasm and imagination, while those with high levels of anxiety and low levels of advocacy and enthusiasm were most likely to give middling responses.
  • People who were highly energetic, enthusiastic, imaginative and thorough were most likely to associate positive words with tested products, while those who were anxious, irritable and neurotic had fewer of these associations.
  • Most personality types prefer new designs, although people low in adventurousness, self-consciousness and curiosity are more likely to prefer old designs.
  • The number of words used by participants to answer questions did not appear to be affected by personality, although people consistently use more words when describing things they like than things they dislike.
  • Anxious individuals were unique among the other personalities as the only group who struggled to identify brands in their products.
  • We found that those who scored highly on more positive character traits such as advocacy, collectivism, energy, extroversion and imagination were more likely to agree with explicit questions as well as implicitly associate positive words with the products tested. The opposite is true of those who received low scores on these attributes.

What our research shows is that personality has a huge impact on the way people respond to online surveys. People with certain positive traits, such as high levels of enthusiasm or energy, tend to react positively to products and services, regardless of what those products are.

It’s important to be aware of these unconscious biases when carrying out market research – both so we can ensure our research is accurate, and so we can leverage those biases when designing packaging and marketing material. Consumers aren’t always rational!

Related posts

Subscribe to the Academy

Sign up for emails from the Mindlab Academy.