In this post I mentioned my annoyance at perception/prediction polls. The one I referenced was based on women who didn't change their last names and their level of marital commitment. Commenter Assistant Village Idiot mentioned another example, which I also liked ""Do you think earthquakes are more likely now because of climate change?" What we think has nothing to do with anything. The earthquakes will happen according to their own rules."
In writing that post however, I forgot to mention that same study included an even worse piece of data. As a rebuttal to the "Midwestern college kids don't think non-name changing women are committed" they included a remark that women who didn't plan on changing their names didn't feel less committed.
I HATE STATEMENTS LIKE THAT.
I would really love it if someone could tell me if there's a proper name for this sort of thing, but I always think of it as "the embarrassing question debacle". Basically, researchers ask people questions with a potentially embarrassing answer, and then report it as meaningful when people do not answer embarrassingly.
There are only two types of people I have ever heard who will admit they went in to their marriages less than completely committed:
- Those who have been married successfully for quite some time who are now comfortable in admitting they were totally naive when they walked down the aisle.
- Those who are already divorced and reflecting on what went wrong.
Level of commitment is best assessed in retrospect, and I look with great skepticism at anyone who says they can gauge it before the fact.
Getting at the reasons people do things can be brutal. Your only source for your data also has the biggest motivation to conceal it from you. Some people are actually doing things for good reasons, some just want to look like they are, and some are lying to themselves. Unless a study at least attempts to account for all 3 scenarios, I would hold all answers suspect.