Category Archives: Research Methods

Do women really only want to date hot guys?

Plenty of Fish is one of the world’s most popular dating sites. There’s an interesting thread of videos on youtube consisting of disgruntled guys who have used this site moaning about their lack of responses from girls.

One ex-user of the site (Steve Sanders) even conducted what can be termed a ‘layman’s field experiments’ to establish why he was getting zero response from POF women.

It struck me that this is a great way to introduce some of the limitations of the experimental method in the social sciences (it’s a pretty bad experiment!) Teachers can cut and paste the questions onto a worksheet if they have the time… 

Watch the details of the experiment below – Answers below… (NB – You only need watch up to about 4 minutes in, then you can skip to just before 6 mins to get the conclusions)



Q1 What hypothesis does he start off with?

  • ‘Girls will only respond to hot guys’ on plenty of fish

Q2 What does  Steve do in order to test his hypothesis?

  • He set up an alternative profile with the same details as his, but with a picture of a hot guy rather than a
  • He then emailed 6 women from each account – from his own he sent a ‘well crafted email’ and from the fake ‘hot guy’ account, he sent a basic email saying only ‘hey girl, want to party’

Q3 In what ways did Steve stratify his sample?

  • He split them into with and without children and then into three different age groups.
  • In fairness to Steve, this is actually a good example of a ‘stratified sampling’ technique that enhances representativeness

Q4 What did all of the women in his sample have in common?

  • They all stated in their profiles that they wanted a relationship

Q5 What were the results of Steve’s experiment? 

  • The hot guy received 4/6 return emails, and dozens of unsolicited emails
  • Steve using his original email received only 1 reply

Q6: What conclusion does Steve draw from the results of his experiment? (about 6 minutes in)

  • Plenty of fish girls only look for hot guys

Q7: What further conclusions does he draw?

  • Because all of the women in his sample say they are looking for a relationship yet respond to a guy who says he only wants to party he concludes that ‘women are idiots’
  • He goes on to say that if you’re a hot guy, you should go on Plenty of Fish because you can get laid every night because ‘women are fucking idiots’, although this is somewhat contradiced by his opening frame (1 second in) which claims that ‘Plenty of Fish Girls are whores’.

Q8: In the light of this experiment are Steve’s conclusions valid?

There are a few limitations of Steve’s field experiment

  • A more sensible conclusion (other than all women are fucking idiots) would be that the women in his sample do want a relationship, but they also want sex with hot guys too.
  • There may be other reasons why Steve gets no responses – He may just be very ugly, and a ‘well crafted’ email from a 4/10 rather than a 1/10 may get as many responses as the hot guy.
  • He is quite a bitter individual, this may come across in his emails – he may think he’s writing a ‘well crafted’ email, but it in fact it could come across as creepy.
  • Obviously the sample size is too small to generalize from.
  • And are these ‘girls’ or ‘women’???


Oh and one final thing, Steve, I’m sorry to tell you that not all women on POF are ‘fucking idiots’. I met* a fearsomely attractive, intelligent woman through POF just this week in fact, so maybe there are some ‘whores’ on the site, but there’s some precious gems too.

(*Mind you, I am pretty hot, so maybe that’s to be expected!)

With 450 000 apprenticeship starts last year – Is Unemployment really going down?

You may have noticed the latest headline figures on unemployment –  which, according to the ONS,  declined by 35,000 in the three months to March to 2.65 million.

The Guardian article above also points out that youth unemployment also declined slightly, by 9,000 in the three months to February, leaving a total of 1.03 million 16- to 24-year-olds looking for work. The unemployment rate for this age group was 22.2%, down from 22.3% three months earlier.

Howeverthings may not be as rosy as you think, and if you delve, you notice that these headline figures mark a much bleaker picture of employment in the UK.

The government’s definition of unemployment, which comes from The International Labour Organisation (ILO) – an agency of the United Nations is broader than that of the ‘claimant count’ –  According to their definition 

Unemployed people are those

• Without a job, want a job, have actively sought work in the last 4 weeks and are available to  start work in the next 2 weeks, or 
• Out of work, have found a job and are waiting to start it in the next 2 weeks.

(This is the important bit) In general, anybody who carries out at least one hour’s paid work in a week, or who is temporarily away from a job (e.g. on holiday) is in employment. Also counted as in employment are people on government-supported training schemes and people who do unpaid work for their family’ business.

Technically, this means that, yes unemployment maybe falling, but we need to look at the quality of jobs that are being created – and the picture here is not so good – Consider the following two facts –

(1) – As Polly Toynbe  points out, Examine the ONS figures and you find full-time jobs did not increase: they fell by 27,000. All the increase was in part-time jobs for men. There are now 1.4 million part-timers desperately seeking but failing to find longer hours.  

This ties in with findings from the JRF foundation which suggest that Underemployment – people who are ‘unemployed, lacking but wanting work or working part-time because no full time job was available’ is now stands at 6 million, or 2 million higher than in 2004.

Secondly, many new jobs may well be New Apprenticeships – A staggering 450000  of which have started in the last year – and Many of these are not actually real jobs at all – In some cases they pay less than the minimum wage – This under-reported phenomenon is actually worthy of a separate blog post – shortly!)

So, yes, formally, the unemployment figures may be going down, but the types of ’employment’ people are going into are temporary training positions and part-time temporary work – and in both cases wages tend to be low and positions insecure. Yes, unemployment is going down, but the quality of life for those going into employment is also decreasing.

Call centres – The New Dark Satanic Mills?

Check out this job posting from Reed Employment Services

‘Spanish plus another language Customer Service Executive- Edinburgh £14,000 – Working 40 hours per week based in Sighthill, Edinburgh Our client is a market leading outsource contact centre who provides an array of sophisticated customer management solutions to major international companies around the world, primarily in the communications, financial services, healthcare, technology’

It may sound pretty swish – but this is basically an advert for a job in a call centre – and you only earn £14, 400 – which puts you below the government’s poverty line (not to mention the fact that you have to be bilingual!)  
If you believe Mark Serwotka of the Public Services Union- Call Centres are among the worst employment sectors in the UK – he in fact phrased the title of this post. The extract below, based on interviews with call centre workers, and taken from Owen Jone’s Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class illustrates some of the miseries of working in a call centre –


By the look on his face, he's run out of 'toilet time'

There are nearly a million people working in call centres, and the number is going up every year.

‘Call centres are a very regimented environment,’ says John McInally, a trade unionist leading efforts to unionize call centre workers. ‘Its rows of desks with people sitting with headphones. There’s loads of people in the room, but they’re seperate units. They’re encouraged not to talk, share experiences, and so on…. The minute you get in the door, your moveemnts are regulated by the computer…. We’ve likened the conditions to those you’d have seen in mills or factories at the end of nineteenth century.’ Think that’s an exaggeration? Then consider the fact that, in some call centres, workers have to put their hands up to go to the toilet and computers dictate the time and duration of breaks, with no flexibility whatosever. Employees are under constant monitoring and surveillance, driving up stress levels.

Many call centre workers have told McInally that the whole experience is ‘very dehumanising’. People talk about being treated like robots. Everything is regulated by machines.’ The working lives of many operators consist of reading through the same script over and over again. According to the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, increasing numbers of call centre workers are being referred to speech therapists because they are losing their voices. The cause? Working long hours with little opportunity to even have a drink of water.
It's actually almost impossible to find 'real' pictures of call centres

That’s one reason why the sickness rate in class centres is nearly twice the national average, The other is deep alienation from the work….. annual staff turnover is around a quarter of the workforce. And, like so much of the new working class, the salaries of call centre workers are poor. A trainee can expect £12 500, while the higher-grade operates are on an average of just £16 000.

Twenty-eight year olf Carl Leishman has been a call centre worker in Durham for eight year. He works bruising twelve-hour shits, three days on a three days off. At his pervious job, stiff targets had to be met. Four per cent of his working hours were set aside for needs like going to the toilet or getting a drink. ‘You’d get ratings at the end of each month, and if you’d gone above those percentages then your rating would drop, affecting what bonuses and pay rises you were getting.’ Carl didn’t need to go the to toilet too often – ‘whereas some other people, like pregnant women, could really struggle to stick to that.’

His employers have a no-hang-up policy, even if the customer is swearing or being aggressive. ‘You’ll see quite often on the floor people in tears at the way people have spoken to them,’ he says. It is a job that can have consequences for your health, too. ‘Your throat gets incredibly dry. There are people I’ve known for years whose throats have gone from doing it. A lady I used to work with had to actually leave because her voice was just completely shot.’

At the core of his experience at work is the lack of control over what he does.  ‘We’re set in rows, which I hate, to be honest. It can sometimes feel very much like a chicken factory as though you don’t have too much control over what you’re doing: ‘This is the way your doing things, and that’s it, deal with it, because that’s the way it is, don’t think too much outside the box… you don’t need to think much for yourself.

Carl’s salary is just £14 400 a year.


Related Posts and Issues

The rise of the call centre worker is indicative of the rise of the ‘New Working Class’ – people employed in the service sector, often on low pay, and increasingly in temporary and part-time conditions (often suffering underemployment) –

The PCS campaigns for better conditions for Call Centre Workers and has put together this Call Centre’s Charter


Black Britons – pulling together and away?

Got my methods hat on – getting ready for the next module – very nice example I just found that illustrates the usefuleness of open questions (qualitative) over closed questions – taken from a semi-structured interview done for the Guardian’s and LSE’s ‘reading the riots’ in which black britons are questioned about whether they feel part of British Society…

Kirk, a 22-year-old British Jamaican video producer, expressed it best when he told me: “They section you out, black people, Jamaicans, Caribbeans, so you don’t really feel like a part of society. I never feel like this is my home really. If they wanted to move us out of this area quickly they could, it’s their land at the end of the day. Wherever you go they’re always gonna look at you as a nigger. Sorry to say it like that but that’s the reality of it.”

These words were in response to a question on the LSE survey: “To what extent do you feel a part of British society?” Routinely, when I asked this question the response was initially positive but after a few moments’ reflection respondents’ answers would change. While they themselves feel British and love this country, they aren’t made to feel British by the white “indigenous” population.

This question often opened floodgates of pent up feeling. Kirk continued: “You can feel the subconscious racism everywhere and you see the way they look at you. So in that aspect I don’t feel like part of British society at all cause when I go to Jamaica I feel more at home, before I even open my mouth they’re just looking at me as one.”

S0 there you go – you need to give people time to respond at length to such a question to get to what they really think and feel.

The Mobile Phone = the Bike Shed?

The Mobile Phone = The Bike Shed: Children, Sex and Mobile Phones should amuse your students – it’s based on a sample of 30 11-17 olds and it explores territory that many students will be familiar with – using mobile phones to explore their sexualities – in layman’s terms this translates in discussing dating, the etiquet of dumping (via text or not…?) and the risk surrounding ‘sexting’ (basically managed by not showing your face). Fortunately the research is summarised in this thinking allowed podcast – this is part of a broader study exploring the use of mobile phones among youg people.

The issues focussed on are that –

  • There is a lot of discussion over whether it’s appropriate to ask out/ dump via text and exactly how you should phrase messages  
  • Boys especially use their phones to look as if they are popular
  • There are some problems over having your mobile phone switched on while engaged in ‘intimate encounters’
  • phones are routinely used to send intimate photographs to eachother in the context a loving relationship  – don’t show yer head!
  • Exploration of sexuality is not uninhibited
  • The use of phones – sexting etc. just reflects the fact that we live in a more sexualised society.
  • There is a lot of anxiety surrounding development of sexual identities – partly fostered by the use of new media.

One of the most interesting ideas put forwards is that developing a sexual identity has always been part of growing up, but one of the main drivers behind the growth of using new technologies to do this exploring is that children are increasingly forced into using virtual space to explore their sexual identities because they actually have less access to public space than my generation would have done in the past…

It’s also quite a good example of a study with plenty of ‘ethical issues’ – which the reseracher basically got round by just starting off with an open question ‘what dyou think about mobile phones’ – most of her findings came out of that!

One thing that will amuse your students is listening to an academic talk about ‘their territory’ in academic language – here’s how the journal abstract analyses what’s going on –

[this research] explores children’s use of mobile phones in relation to their intimate, sexual relationships and in their development of gendered sexual identities in their everyday lives. Implications of risk and mobile phones are reflected in current media discourse and contemporary public discussions. While the concept of risk remains at the centre of current sociological debate, children have only recently been seen as active social actors within social science. Based on the accounts of 30 young people aged between 11 and 17, the article adopts a social constructivist perspective to explore the relationship between young people’s talk of sexuality and sexual acts in their discussions of mobile phone use, within the wider theoretical debates about risk and self-identity.


children’s books and symbolic annihilation

Winne the Pooh and friends - reinforcing patriarchy through play
Winne the Pooh and friends - reinforcing patriarchy through play

Children’s books are almost twice as likely to feature a male central character as a female one, leading to a symbolic annihilation of women according to a recent US study. Researchers from Florida State University looked at 6000 children’s books published between 1900 and 2000 and found that males are respresented 1.6 times more than females as central characters.  Gender bias was especially strong amongst animal characters – Winnie the Pooh being a prime offender

People really do like pretty pictures

so here's another one..

Hey thanks to Ms or Mr popular who linked to me on Stumbleupon and drove 2700 people to my ‘world is 100 people’ post from a couple of days ago (the one with pictures like those above , in my world at least, that’s a lot of hits – It;s confirmed to me that

1. People really love pictures

2. People really don’t like commenting – out of 2700 hits I have – zero comments; 13 likes on Facebook and 2 tweets.

3. I guess this shows up the true nature of the blogsphere, and possibly the use the internet more generally is put to – most people are just out to passively consume – I classify surfing and ‘passing things on’ as passive – not to actually contribute anything. I’ve noticed this with my students – they hate commenting on forums and even on The Guardian web site, which must get hundreds of thousands of hits, or millions on some articles, it’s relatively rare to find a news post with over 1000 comments. So now I’m wondering – does all of this leftist information that’s so easily accessible on the internet actually make people more politically active or not, and, here’s the difficult question, is anyone out there measuring this, if that’s it’s even possible with any degree of validity etc.

4. Not that that the post in question of mine actually contributed anything new anyway of course – I just cut and paste from something else’s web site, at least I linked to the guy who actually produced those excellent pictures! Please don’t sue me. I know nothing about copyright issues when it comes to posting up other people’s stuff – perhaps I should…

Should you boycott the 2011 Census?

facebook_logoLockheed Martin is set to earn £150 million for running part of the UK National Census. The problem here is that this company earns 80% of its income from working for the American military and has profitted massively from the recent illegal war in Iraq.

There are also concerns that Lockheed Martin will use the information it gets for its own purposes – it offers intelligence services to governments around the world.

Meanwhile, Caci, the company chosen to run the census in Scotland has been linked to the torture of prisoners at Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

There are several people out there calling for a boycott – such as the morning star – on the grounds that it is wrong to support an arms company -although you do face a £1000 fine if you do choose not to fill the form in – and others against a boycott –

Meanwhile Liberal Conspiracy reminds us that Lockheed Martin gets paid anyway and that such a move is counter productive as it just prevents local councils from getting the data they need to provide effective public services.  

Whether you choose to boycott the Census or not – the decision by the government to award this contract to massive arms firms clearly shows, yet again, its willingness to support the arms trade with our tax revenue.

Are the British Public illogical or is the British Social Attitudes Survey simply a waste of money?

It has to be one or the other…. or maybe this is just a good example of how the way you phrase a questions, and the broader context in which those questions are set, influence responses in questionnaires.

I blogged a week ago on some of the findings of the chapter on peoples beliefs about ‘meritocracy’ – The British Public seem to think that meritocratic factors are seen as being the most important when it comes to a person “getting ahead” in modern Britain….

  • 84% say hard work is important;
  • 74% think a good education is important
  • 71% say ambition.
  • 33% think knowing the right people is important.
  • and only 14% think that being born into a wealthy family was thought to be important

If, however, you follow the link to the first chapter, on attitudes towards inequality, you find that people do not believe there is equal opportunity inBritain…

• 80% say children from better-off families have many more opportunities than children from less well-off families.

• 68% say some people have higher incomes than others because they are born to rich parents and have advantages from the start.

• Only 27% say people in Britain today have similar opportunities regardless of their income.

Given that the BSA takes care to ensure representativeness in its sampling (also given the extreme differences in stats) – the difference here is either because the general public are stupid (if you define stupid as the inability to make logical connections) or it’s the result of the context of the questions shaping the responses – in chapter two the researchers say ‘we are doing research into how people ‘get ahead’ in life….we want your views – people’s minds narrow to focus on individual level factors such as ambition etc….. but if you start off by saying ‘ we are looking at social inequality people look at the bigger picture.

Fascinating – and depressing – well, depressing if you want to get to what people think and feel – but not depressing if you’re looking for insight into how to manipulate questionnaires to get the results you desire!