Silly questions

Silly questions

I was reminded of this piece today:

"This article takes as its starting point the frustration that many people feel when they try to answer attitude questionnaires. it attempts to do justice to those who have laboriously tried to reassert their own attitudes, feeling them unrepresented, or even caricatured by the items offered. For the most part these criticisms, added as comments at the end, or expressed in other ways, have been ignored by psychologists. For one thing they are not easy to score, but more importantly the subject is not considered qualified to criticise the questionnaire designed and standardised by the expert psychologist.

A personal experience is relevant here. Some time ago I was asked, as a subject, to fill in a questionnaire drawn up by a well-known social psychologist. It was entitled 'The Student and Society'. I recall a feeling of intense annoyance on finding the following item: ' I am in favour of destroying the present political system even without knowing what will replace it'. My pencil hovered nihilistically over the response 'strongly agree', then wavered uneasily between 'mildly agree' and 'cannot answer'. In vain did I search the questionnaire for a reasonable expression of my views. Caricatures of extremity and moderation predominated, intermingled with potted homilies and laughable simplifications. I added a side of my own views on the back, but I doubt whether they were quantifiable, as that term is generally understood by psychologists."

From 'Asking Silly Questions' by Martin Rosier.  Chapter 6 in: Armistead, N. (Ed.) (1974). Reconstructing Social Psychology. Harmondsworth: Penguin.