Research Wonder: A Case for Respondent Pre-Survey Rituals?

by | Jan 11, 2017 | Opinion / Editorial, Research Wonder, Survey Methodology

Explore a research wonder related to our search for better quality data…

A couple months ago, I listened to a podcast episode called “Sports Superstitions” on a wonderful podcast called Fearless Conversations with Abby Wambach (which, by the way, is a wonderful podcast on a variety of social issues from the perspective of a professional athlete). It brought back memories of long ago (high school) days when I used to pole vault. For a long time I blamed my youth for the rituals that I would perform before and during competition.  How I removed the pole from its cardboard tube, the number of times I rocked back and forth before I started down the runway (three), and even the side of the pit that I used to jump off after I completed a vault (always the left).

So this morning, when an article in the Harvard Business Review called “Research: Performing a Ritual Before a Stressful Task Improves Performance” came into my morning reading stream, I took notice.  The article is a summary of a larger research paper where the authors find that rituals do reduce anxiety (both self-reported and also physiological measures of anxiety). And the reduction in anxiety improved performance in both public performance and taking a math test. They found that this result continued even when an activity was simply named as a ritual, but not based in any known actual ritual.

This is a powerful idea.  And it got me thinking…


If the use of a ritual could reduce anxiety among survey responders and lead to better quality data, especially where sensitive items may be asked? Would it lead to more complete data (fewer break-offs and item missing data points)?


If asking participants in a study to perform a ritual would lead them to have a better experience with the survey, leading them to be more accepting of future survey requests?

What do you think? Has anyone studied how anxiety influences survey response quality?  If there is a link there, then efforts to reduce anxiety certainly would theoretically help data quality.

If you missed the earlier post about expressions of gratitude and survey quality, you may want to check that one out too – combined with this thought, there may be something cool to test out. (A gratitude ritual maybe, or some newfound research wonder!)

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.