Research Wonder: Weather conditions looming? Now, tell me about your social anxiety

by | Aug 31, 2015 | Opinion / Editorial, Research Wonder, Survey Methodology, Survey Operations

Why not capture weather data, too?

According to a significant string of research, winter weather (or lack of sunshine) and extreme weather can increase mental health problems like social anxiety. It can also bring out stronger feelings of empathy for others. Violent crime rises with heat, and warm climates are protective against death. Allergies, often seasonal, have a significant impact on health. Think about those weather conditions.

As social scientists, these phenomena — mental health, social anxiety, moods, empathy, crime, and health — are all generally important variables we explore, and often control for, in our studies.

In a recent study completed in France, Guéguen and Jacob found that on sunny days, respondents cooperated with a survey request coming from an interviewer at about a 10% higher rate than when asked to do so on a cloudy day. Did their levels of mental well-being, combined with or caused by the weather, affect this rate?

So I wonder…

Why do we NOT routinely capture data about respondents’ local weather conditions – current temperatures and cloud cover, recent or upcoming extreme weather, regional pollen counts, and other related data – while we collect survey data?  Or if not during the survey, why do we not merge in such data from an external source before analysis?

It would be easy to do.  Ask the respondent for their zip code, and capture the date and time they are taking the survey.  With this (or similar geographic location data) there are numerous sources for data on weather conditions available (Weather Underground, National Weather Service, AccuWeather).

Data linking too much?  How about a simple question:  

Q.  Which of the following best describes how sunny or cloudy it is at your location? 

  1. Sunny
  2. Partly sunny/cloudy
  3. Cloudy
  4. It is nighttime

Has anyone done this?  If so, did it help the science?

What’s a Research Wonder?  Read this to find out…

Currently, the FDA only regulates true direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests, which have no health care provider involved either before or after testing. Consumer-initiated, physician-mediated genetic tests are considered lab developed tests (LDTs), which currently do not require FDA oversight. 


Our Study Design

Our study was designed to simulate the experience of an everyday person who is considering doing a health-related genetic test. For this reason, we only reviewed website contents presented to a consumer before ordering a test. By limiting our data collection to pre-test content, instead of digging around or contacting the companies to fill in missing data points, gaps in public-facing information that consumers use to make ‘informed’ decisions were revealed.  

Also, while a genetic counselor supervised the project, a research assistant (RA) conducted most of the website investigations. The RA was familiar enough with genetics and genetic testing to understand and identify the information presented on the websites, but has not had the clinical exposure that might create bias from knowing how specific tests work “behind-the-scenes”. 


To Sum Up

We set out to understand the landscape of health-related consumer genomics testing from the public perspective. By limiting our research (by design) to public-facing pre-test website content, we could not complete our data collection as set out in the protocol. However, this uncovered an important observation: consumer genomics websites are highly variable in content, readability and ease of use. 

This begs the question, if we can’t find basic test information on a consumer genomics website, how does a consumer have enough information to make an informed choice about testing? 

Stay tuned for Part 2 in this series, where we will dig into our study findings and reveal our most interesting observations.  



As experts in FDA user comprehension studies for consumer genomics companies seeking 510(k) clearance, we are interested in how everyday people access and understand health content that is meant for them. If you need help optimizing your consumer-directed health communications, we’ve got the in-house expertise and experience to meet your needs. Let’s chat

About the Author

Scott D. Crawford

Scott D. Crawford is the Founder and Chief Vision Officer at SoundRocket. He is also often found practicing being a husband, father, entrepreneur, forever-learner, survey methodologist, science writer & advocate, and podcast lover. While he doesn’t believe in reincarnation, he’s certain he was a Great Dane (of the canine type) in a previous life.