Chapter 9: Survey Research

Shortly after the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, DC, in September of 2001, researcher Jennifer Lerner and her colleagues conducted an Internet-based survey of nearly 2,000 American teens and adults ranging in age from 13 to 88 (Lerner, Gonzalez, Small, & Fischhoff, 2003)[1]. They asked participants about their reactions to the attacks and for their judgments of various terrorism-related and other risks. Among the results were that the participants tended to overestimate most risks, that females did so more than males, and that there were no differences between teens and adults. The most interesting result, however, had to do with the fact that some participants were “primed” to feel anger by asking them what made them angry about the attacks and by presenting them with a photograph and audio clip intended to evoke anger. Others were primed to feel fear by asking them what made them fearful about the attacks and by presenting them with a photograph and audio clip intended to evoke fear. As the researchers hypothesized, the participants who were primed to feel anger perceived less risk than the participants who had been primed to feel fear—showing how risk perceptions are strongly tied to specific emotions.

The study by Lerner and her colleagues is an example of survey research in psychology—the topic of this chapter. We begin with an overview of survey research, including its definition, some history, and a bit about who conducts it and why. We then look at survey responding as a psychological process and the implications of this for constructing good survey questionnaires. Finally, we consider some issues related to actually conducting survey research, including sampling the participants and collecting the data.

  1. Lerner, J. S., Gonzalez, R. M., Small, D. A., & Fischhoff, B. (2003). Effects of fear and anger on perceived risks of terrorism: A national field experiment. Psychological Science, 14, 144–150.