New technology trends rapidly become hot topics for all sorts of number crunchers who are paid to publish. At any given moment, countless researchers – from bored market analysts to eccentric tenured faculty – are mining reams of data in search of insights, conclusions and of course headline-making news. Social media networks and cellphone service providers are particularly fecund sources of information, with survey populations of hundreds of millions of users bridging vastly different demographic groups.
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To attract a wider audience that might be interested in paying to read their full 100-page reports, researchers often publish press releases with punchy executive summaries and borderline sensationalist titles. These titles become headlines announcing grand revelations about human behavior. But most of the underlying research, whether commercial or academic, is based on partial and biased data, and so only presents a snapshot of a narrowly defined group of people at a given moment.
Here are a few examples of misleading attention-grabbers:
Women love window shopping
The market research company comScore tracks web surfing trends among digital consumers around the globe, with a particular focus on the American market. More than 100 million Americans own smartphones and comScore determined that four out of five of these smartphone owners use their device to visit shopping websites online.
When the researchers added up the number of minutes American consumers spend surfing the web using their cellphones, they discovered that woman utilize their smartphones more often for surfing shopping websites. According to comScore, 56.1 percent of the minutes smartphone users spent surfing shopping website were logged by females.
Since the research didn't touch on more useful points, like how often this browsing leads to purchases and how much gets spent, its conclusion is essentially equivalent to: Women like to wander around shopping malls. This is hardly a groundbreaking revelation.
Social media doesn't contribute to online purchases
Forrester Research, an international market research company, examined 77,000 online transactions that took place over several weeks last April. The results were clear: Less than one percent of all the purchases originated from social media networks. The conclusion is no less clear: Social media aren't effective in propelling increased Internet sales.
At the top of the list of digital tools that draw in consumers are the retail companies' websites where the actual purchases are made. Just below them are search engine results, whether organic or paid. Social media networks, principally Facebook and Pinterest, come in at the bottom.
At Forrester they claim the marketing potential of social media networks has still yet to be utilized. They say the influence of social media needs to be studied over a longer period of time to discern the diffusion of information from companies' websites to consumers' wallets.
The most important point of the report is hidden near the end: Forrester's report only examined the completed online purchases made on the sites of giant corporations and ignored the strong effect that social media can have on the income of small businesses.
"Sexting" leads to sexually transmitted diseases
Yes. As surprising as it sounds, survey results published by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that "tweens" who send each other text messages containing sexual content (or "sext" each other) are more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases. The researchers examined 2,000 schoolchildren between the ages of nine and 12 and found that 15 percent sent or received text messages of a sexual nature and 50 percent knew someone who sent or received "sexts." The researchers used these findings to reach the sensational conclusion that sexting indicates a more permissive attitude towards sex among youth today as compared to previous generations that is likely to lead to increased exposure to sexually transmitted diseases.
Should you de-friend your ex on Facebook?
The British psychologist Tara Marshall surveyed 464 patients (mainly women in their 20s) about their activities on Facebook while discussing their post-relationship emotional rehabilitation. Based on patients' responses to "How often do you check your ex's Facebook page?" she found that being Facebook friends with you an ex can lead to bouts of anger, despair and frustration and delay personal development and healing.
But Marshall didn't advise her patients to de-friend their exes. Why? Because she discovered that the inability to track exes creates a cloud of mystery around their activities. Who is the new person they are dating? Where are they going out to later? Is your ex also suffering from the break-up or are they happier because of it? Apparently, stalking your ex on Facebook isn't so different from life outside of social media.
iPads improve owners' sex lives
Researchers don't just study the negative effects of smartphone and social media use. Sociologists like professor Jerome Bonafite from the University of Bordeaux in France, shed light on the more positive sides of digital accessories. Based on a survey that he conducted with two different groups, 500 Americans and 500 French, Bonafite discovered a strong correlation between the number of hours spent using an iPad at home and the strength of a couple's relationship. Bonafite found that as the amount of time that one or both partners use their iPads increases, so does the frequency that they have sex.
From the data, he found that the 44.5 percent of couples that have sex at least four times per week on average, use an iPad an average of more than 30 hours in given week (including the usage of both partners); 28 percent of couples who have sex three times per week on average, use an iPad an average of 20 hours per week and the 11.5 percent of couples who have sex twice a week on average and use their iPad an average of 15 hours per week.
The problem in that the French researcher doesn't specify in his report whether he examined the type of content viewed by couples using their tablets and whether viewing content of a sexual nature, for example, had any effect on the general trend.
One of five studies finds
Caution: Even the techno punks haven't been entirely unaffected by the rash of trendy research surveys. We got a bit envious and decided to invent our own survey to include among those being batted around in social media.
One of the five surveys mentioned in this article didn't actually come from the news. Try to guess which one is the plant. But we would be thrilled if you published the fake results as well.