How Habituation Can Negatively Affect Your Survey Responses

Most researchers forget that things like boredom, anger, and other emotions can affect your survey’s data collection. When those in your sample are taking your survey, how they feel about your survey can badly affect your ability to receive useful data, and depending on how your survey is created, there may be other issues at play that affect your data collection. One of those issues is when respondents start to get too used to filling out your survey, and ultimately stop giving it useful answers. Though it goes by many names, one of the most common ways of referring to this occurrence is habituation. Habituation may not always be the best term. Another term may simply be “disinterest.”

How Does Habituation Occur?

When someone is filling out a survey, habituation occurs when the person decides he/she is no longer interested in giving the survey a lot of thought. Instead, they start going through the questions, giving each one roughly the same response. There may be a little variation in their answers, but otherwise they all tend to be closer to the same response – often one that denotes disinterest or lack of passion, such as “neither agree nor disagree” or “slightly agree.”

Causes of Habituation

There are many possible causes of habituation:

  • Wanting the survey to end quickly. Therefore, respondents select similar answers across multiple questions to help finish the survey quickly.
  • Central tendency bias in long surveys.
  • Losing passion for the answers and having that lost passion show up in the data.
  • Lack of interest in filling out the survey.

Within the data, you may see every answer the same (equivalent to choosing “C” for every answer on a multiple choice question), or you may see little variation from a set of answers, such as “slightly agree” or “slightly disagree” even if respondents could normally choose a more passionate answer. The length of the survey is also a prime reason that this occurs because survey participants want the survey to be over with so they can move on with their day.

Avoiding Habituation in Surveys

To avoid habituation in surveys, consider shortening the survey, changing the question wording, and otherwise finding ways to make the survey more interesting to respondents. The more your survey participants feel involved with the survey, the more likely they will continue to provide accurate responses. Many researchers believe that variations in the question wording can greatly influence how your survey participants respond. You should also be able to see that if habituation occurs through analysis, you should consider changing your survey.

Habituation (and disinterest) is a serious and all-too-common problem with surveys and data collection. It’s important that you build a survey that doesn’t cause this issue.

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