Identifying gender by handwriting — you’re probably not as good at it as you think

Although linking handwriting to psychology is considered pseudoscience, there’s some merit in predicting a person’s gender based on their scrawlings.

Whether this gender impression is formed by i’s dotted with hearts or a more subtle signifier, we at Survata were interested in gauging the public’s ability to successfully identify gender based on handwriting. To do so, we gathered five handwriting samples of each gender and presented them to 3,100 respondents using our consumer survey tool, asking if they think the handwriting belongs to a man or woman (see the footnotes for details on our methodology). Overall, we found that respondents correctly identified gender by handwriting 54% of the time.

That average is misleading, though, because it is watered down by a few samples to which responses were overwhelmingly wrong. Respondents were relatively decisive on six of the ten presented samples, with at least 60% of respondents guessing one way. This decisiveness was occasionally for the wrong option, however, as shown below (to test your own gender identification abilities, view the sample on the left before looking at the gender on the right):

Gender equality

The battle of the sexes was a draw when it comes to guessing handwriting; male and female respondents, at 54%, had a virtually equal success rate. But who is better at guessing a specific gender’s writing? It seems like it takes one to know one. Men identified male handwriting successfully 64% of the time, whereas women correctly identified male handwriting writing 59% of the time. Likewise, women were more successful than men at identifying female handwriting by a margin of 49% to 45%.

The female handwriting images in our limited sample were more confounding than the male, as respondents had better luck guessing male samples by a score of 61% to 47%.  Of course, five samples per gender is not enough to generalize which gender’s handwriting is more recognizable overall.

Our take

We were surprised that respondents weren’t better at identifying the gender behind the writings, and that so many were wrong on several of the questions. The participants who submitted handwriting samples were blind to the purpose of the survey, and the samples therefore weren’t intentionally misleading. Perhaps the average person simply isn’t as good a judge as expected.

Is the public jumping to conclusions about your image? Try Survata today to find out.

Footnotes for our fellow data geeks

  1. We obtained handwriting samples from participants recruited on Craigslist.org. All handwriting samples were from participants in the San Francisco Bay Area.
  2. We did not control for geographic location, age, ethnicity, SES status, or handedness (i.e., left or right). We do not know whether those variables affect gender recognition of a handwriting sample.
  3. We interviewed 3,100 online respondents from November 22 to November 26, 2013.
  4. You can download the underlying data here.
  5. You can analyze the underlying data in Statwing here and here.

The great peanut butter debate: 57% of people prefer creamy over crunchy

Deep dish versus thin crust, white versus wheat, and skim versus two percent are all heated food debates. But creamy versus crunchy peanut butter is arguably the most contentious.

Pizza preference has a clear geographic association, but the makeup of teams creamy and crunchy is largely unknown. So, we at Survata wanted to get a handle on the demographics of peanut butter preferences.

To find out, we used our consumer survey tool to ask 4,410 respondents whether they preferred creamy or crunchy peanut butter. After screening out those who don’t eat peanut butter, we found that creamy was the more popular choice by a score of 57% to 43%.

Crunchier with age

Could your peanut butter preference betray your age? Our results suggest that it might, since respondents age 45 and over overwhelmingly chose crunchy over creamy. This trend was reversed in the younger age categories, with 59% of respondents under 45 preferring creamy.

PB&Gender

Perhaps crunchy peanut butter possesses some kind of Freudian symbolism, because we found that preference differed slightly by gender. 48% of men preferred crunchy peanut butter, compared to 41% of women. This means men were 17% more likely than women to go for crunchy.

Our take

Frankly, we were surprised to find significant demographic correlations in peanut butter preference. But, such a survey illustrates the fact that even the most unsuspecting topics can be an opportunity to gain consumer insights.

Want to learn demographic preferences about your product? Try Survata today.

Footnotes for our fellow data geeks

  1. We interviewed 4,410 online respondents from October 7 to October 9, 2013
  2. You can download the underlying data here.
  3. You can analyze the underlying data in Statwing.

Are Americans proud to be from their state? California and Oregon get a ‘Yes,’ Arizona and Indiana not so much

While U.S. citizens undoubtedly have cause to wave their state flag, each of the 50 states also has its share of less than brag-worthy traits.

It’s been shown that Americans have strong opinions about states beside their own, but we at Survata were curious how residents of a state feel about home sweet home. We used our consumer survey service to ask 7,340 respondents if they were proud to be from the state in which they reside.

The results showed that 34% of respondents were “extremely proud” to be from the state in which they currently live, while 9% were “not at all proud.”

States of the Union

We found that Oregon, California, and Washington were among the proudest states, each with over 42% of respondents saying they were “extremely proud” to live there. Arizona, Indiana, and North Carolina were the least proud, as each state had less than 21% of respondents answer they were “extremely proud.”

Since Texas is known for its larger than life persona, we predicted that the former sovereign nation would produce extraordinary results in terms of state pride. However, Texas was towards the middle of the pack for both proud and not proud residents, recording the 20th highest total for rates of “extremely proud” residents (36%) and 19th highest for those who were “not at all proud” (12%).

We also found gender differences among Texas respondents, as women were over twice as likely as men to say they are “not at all proud” of their state.

Teen angst

Perhaps because they’re unlikely to have much say in where they live, respondents age 13-17 were the age group most likely to answer that they are “not at all proud” to be from their state. At 15%, teens were 67% more likely than respondents over age 18 not to take pride in their place of residence.

Our take

We were struck by the fact that over a third of total respondents were “extremely proud” to be from their state, and will be curious to see how these totals fluctuate with any future political and economic changes.

Want to poll the nation for answers of your own? Build a Survata survey in minutes.

Footnotes for our fellow data geeks

  1. We interviewed 7340 online respondents from September 30 to October 3, 2013
  2. You can download the underlying data here.
  3. You can analyze the underlying data in Statwing.

What will happen to Walter White? We collected predictions from 700 ‘Breaking Bad’ fans

As “Breaking Bad” careens violently toward its series finale, many plot points are still up in the air: Will Walt escape the law? Will he reclaim his money from the Aryan Brotherhood? Does baby Holly stand any chance at avoiding severe psychological trauma?

As an office full of “Breaking Bad” fans, we at Survata were curious if viewers wanted a sympathetic ending for Walt despite his moral corrosion. We surveyed 721 respondents (who stated they planned to watch the series finale on Sunday), asking which ending they prefer for Walt, and which ending they predict will occur.

A matter of life and meth

We found that many fans hope the finale will be an “A1 day” for Walt. 24% of respondents said they prefer that the series concludes with Walt reclaiming his money and evading police. Significantly fewer viewers want Walt brought to justice, as only 8% of respondents said they prefer the show ends with his arrest.

The final showdown

Female “Breaking Bad” viewers may have reached their quota for violent confrontations, as they were over 40% more likely to prefer a natural death for Walt. 17% of female respondents said they prefer Walt dies of cancer, compared to 12% of men. Conversely, 21% of men hope that Walt is killed, while 16% of women hope for such an outcome.

Heisenberg uncertainty

Looking at what viewers predict will happen (instead of what they prefer to happen), we found no standout prediction for Walt’s ultimate fate. 20% of respondents predicted that Walt would survive, while a nearly equal number predicted that Walt would die of cancer or be killed by Jesse Pinkman. The least selected prediction (at 3%) was Walt being killed by Todd, Jack, or another member of the Aryan Brotherhood.

Coming to a close

Although we can only speculate about how the final minutes of “Breaking Bad” will play out, we can say one thing for certain: Regardless of what happens, many viewers are bound to be surprised by the finale.

Want to run your own nationwide survey on pop culture? Build a Survata survey in minutes.

Footnotes for our fellow data geeks

  1. We interviewed 721 online respondents from September 23 to September 25, 2013
  2. You can download the underlying data here.
  3. You can analyze the underlying data in Statwing.

Science or sacrilege? Atheists and agnostics are 76% more likely than Christians to believe in the existence of extraterrestrial life.

Ever since Copernicus formulated a heliocentric model of the universe in the 16th century, scientific discovery has posed uncomfortable questions for the religious faithful. The modern age is no different, as NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity  and other evidence suggest the possibility that Earthlings are not alone in the universe — which many find to be at odds with fundamental theological teachings.

At Survata, we were curious how religious affiliation relates to a belief in extraterrestrial life. To test this, we used our survey system to poll 5,886 Americans. We asked the respondents to state a religious affiliation and then asked “Do you believe in the existence of extraterrestrial life?”

Of the 5,886 Americans polled, 37% affirmed a belief in the existence of extraterrestrial life, 21% denied such a belief, and 42% were uncertain, responding “I’m not sure.”

Reconciling Religion

Belief in extraterrestrial life varies dramatically by religious affiliation (or lack thereof). Of those who identify as atheist or agnostic, 55% affirm a belief in extraterrestrial life compared to only 32% of Christians, meaning atheists and agnostics are 76% more likely than Christians to believe in the existence of life beyond our planet.

Denomination Classification

Furthermore, the results suggest that not all Christians think alike when it comes to extraterrestrial life. Among Christian denominations, Baptists (29%) and those selecting “Other” (27%) were found to be the least likely to affirm the existence of life outside our planet.

The Truth is Out There

While no earthly poll can provide insight into the contents of our vast universe, our results suggest that the prospect of extraterrestrial life resonates more among nonreligious groups.  NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity will have to provide some more concrete evidence to convince many Americans.

Got a pressing question? Create a Survata survey in minutes.

Footnotes for our fellow data geeks

  1. We interviewed 5,886 online respondents from September 16 to September 18, 2013
  2. You can download the underlying data here.
  3. You can analyze the underlying data in Statwing.

How accurate are Americans at estimating calories?

The holiday season is officially in full swing. For some that means decorating a tree; for others, buying presents. But for everyone, it means food – lots and lots of food. Perhaps the American tradition of late December binge eating is why losing weight is perpetually a top New Year’s Resolution, and why NBC is already heavily promoting its next season of The Biggest Loser that starts in January.

Conventional wisdom holds that one main reason Americans have trouble keeping off the pounds is that they overwhelmingly underestimate the calories in food. This is presumably the logic behind laws that require chain restaurants to display calorie counts on menus. We decided to test this conventional wisdom using our Survata research network. So we asked over 6,000 US internet users to estimate the total calories in the following 8 meals and snacks:

  1. Pancake meal: 2 pancakes with butter and syrup, 2 strips of Oscar Mayer bacon, 1 cup of hashed brown potatoes (1,060 Calories)
  2. Cereal meal: 2 cups of Special K cereal with 1 cup of 2% milk, 1 Thomas’ English muffin, 8 oz of orange juice (594 Calories)
  3. Chicken soup meal: 1 cup of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup, 1 banana, 16 oz of Snapple lemonade (431 Calories)
  4. Roasted chicken meal: 1/2 breast of roasted skinless chicken, 1 cup of brown rice, 8 oz of skim milk (446 Calories)
  5. Cookies & milk snack: 3 chocolate chip cookies, 8 oz of Nesquik fat-free chocolate milk (394 Calories)
  6. Carrots & pretzels snack: 10 baby carrots, 1 oz bag of Rold Gold pretzels (150 Calories)
  7. Subway meal: Subway foot-long tuna sandwich, 1 bag of Doritos, 20 oz of Coca-Cola (1,443 Calories)
  8. Domino’s & McDonald’s meal: 2 slices of cheese pizza from Domino’s, medium-sized order of McDonald’s french fries, 20 oz of Coca-Cola (943 Calories)

The results may surprise you. Let’s dive into the numbers.

Take your best guess

In aggregate, the calorie estimates were quite accurate. The average was within 65 calories of the actual calorie content for 4 of the 8 meals.

Against conventional wisdom, Americans in our survey did not overwhelmingly underestimate calorie content. In a previously published study, Americans underestimated calorie content 82% of the time. We also observed a bias towards underestimation, but at a much lower rate – only 62%. And on a meal-by-meal basis, the median respondent:

  • underestimated for 5 meals (Subway, cereal, pancakes, roasted chicken, chicken soup)
  • estimated perfectly for 1 meal (carrots & pretzels)
  • overestimated for 2 meals (cookies & milk, Domino’s & McDonald’s)

Would you like fries with that?

We were most surprised by the results for fast food restaurants. Our study included Subway, which has a “healthy” reputation (thanks to millions of dollars worth of Jared ads), and the combination of Domino’s and McDonald’s, which have a less-than-stellar reputation for diet-friendly foods. Amazingly, even though the Subway meal had 500 more calories than the Domino’s & McDonald’s meal, on average the respondents estimated the Subway meal had 639 fewer calories than the Domino’s & McDonald’s meal! Perhaps Americans are too anchored to Subway as a healthy choice, and Domino’s & McDonald’s as distinctly unhealthy choices. (On a related note, we found 7 sandwiches on the Subway menu had over 900 calories, and that’s before you even throw in the chips and drink!)

Together we were right, but each of us was wrong

While average estimates were accurate (including within an impressive 5 calories – about 1% – for the chicken soup meal), individual respondents displayed a wide range of accuracy. This is a variant of the wisdom of crowds effect, which states that a group’s average estimate of a measure is often accurate even when most individual estimates are inaccurate. In fact, in our study, only 14% of respondents estimated the chicken soup meal’s calories within 10% of the actual calorie content. And no meal had even 1 in 5 people give a “close” answer:

Screen Shot 2014-01-06 at 4.46.39 PM

What we learned

It our study, Americans did not overwhelmingly underestimate calories for most meals. Estimates for fast food calories were significantly misguided – but in both directions! Apparently we have been misled by those oh-so-catchy jingles.

To both our under- and over-estimated readers, as we enter the heart of holiday food season: Happy Eating to All, and to All a Good Bite.

 

Footnotes for our fellow data geeks

  1. We interviewed 6,587 online respondents from the US on December 6-13, 2012. Each respondent provided a calorie estimate for only 1 meal. We eliminated extreme outlier responses (the highest and lowest 2.5% for each meal), leaving 6,256 responses for further analysis.
  2. You can view the raw responses and the sources for calorie “actuals” here, and analyze it with Statwing.
  3. You can read about the science behind calorie measurements here.
  4. Our survey unit looked like this:
  5. We love feedback and ideas for future statistically-oriented blog posts! Email us at contact@survata.com.
  6. Disclaimer: We’re not doctors, so we can’t speak to the overall health impact of these foods. We know healthy food is about more than just calories.
  7. Acknowledgements: Thank you to Greg Laughlin, Ryan White, Jacob Wenger, Susie James, and Harendra Guturu for helpful comments.