Genetics determine whether you're willing to take a survey...according to a new survey

Illustration for article titled Genetics determine whether youre willing to take a survey...according to a new survey

It seems like the most blatantly circular reasoning ever, but when researchers wanted to determine whether there's a genetic component to people's willingness to respond to a survey, there was only one way to do it. Send out a survey!


A lot of work goes into improving surveys to eliminate (or, depending on the ethics of the pollster, accentuate) hidden biases in the questions and to produce the most genuinely random pool of respondents possible. But Foster Thompson and her team at North Carolina State wanted to flip the question by studying what sorts of people are actually willing to participate in a survey.

Of course, they didn't just send out a survey that asked, "Are you the sort of person that responds to surveys?" That wouldn't be particularly scientific, not to mention the fact that any "no" answers to that question would open up one doozy of a logical paradox. Instead, they sent out surveys 1,000 sets of twins, of which some pairs were identical and the rest were fraternal.


The researchers were hoping the response patterns would reveal some clues as to the type of people who respond to surveys. As Thompson explains, they discovered something major:

"We found that the behavior of one identical twin was a good predictor for the other, but that the same did not hold true for fraternal twins. Because all of the sets of twins were raised in the same household, the only distinguishing variable between identical and fraternal twin sets is the fact that identical twins are genetically identical and fraternal twins are not."

So somehow your genetics play a role in your willingness to respond to surveys, and this study suggests your genetic background is actually more important than environment or upbringing. Thompson says this complicates the task of getting people to take part in surveys, which are a crucial tool in the study of organizational behavior, but it also opens up a new avenue of study:

"We need to get representative data in order to form accurate conclusions for science and for business practice. A lot of research has been done to evaluate how surveys can be written or presented to encourage participation. Much less work has been done to evaluate the personal characteristics of potential respondents - and the role those characteristics play in determining whether someone will actually fill a survey out."


She didn't elaborate on how they're going to further investigate this issue, but I think it's a fairly safe bet that a whole lot more surveys will be involved.

[Journal of Organizational Behavior]


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Where is this survey? I would like to take it to see what it says about my survey-taking habits.