Friday, August 06, 2010

A question with only one answer

Apparently, among the questions eharmony.com asks its victims customers is this doozy: "Are you self aware?" The company prides itself on the depth of this question so much that it includes in its ads a woman who is amazed that no other matchmaking site had ever asked her this before.
But let's think about this for a second. If you fail to be self-aware, you will fail to be aware of this failing of yours and will answer, "Yes, I am self aware." If you are self-aware, you will answer, "Yes, I am self aware." So, how would this question differentiate between site-members. 
Answer: It wouldn't. What it would do is make those people who had kicked some money to the site feel that, contrary to fact, they were actually being evaluated based on their character traits, character traits that can be evaluated according to a questionnaire—an empty set if ever there was. I suspect that matchmaking websites have slightly less depth than the psychic around the corner. 

NB: In the case of the actually self-aware, this person might actually see themselves as being less than ideally self-aware. So, if anything, there would be a negative correlation between claims to self-awareness and actual self-awareness. 

3 comments:

Nicholas Bormann said...

One advantage to the "self-awareness" question for match-making: regardless of how accurate someone is in answering it, it's still some sort of "signal" as to what kind of person they are. To analogize from education, going to school and getting a B.A. in something doesn't necessarily show you know anything, but it does show that you have the mental endurance to jump through the hoops and get a degree. Presumably, this demonstrates qualities that an employer will value. In a similar way, saying you're self-aware (even if you aren't) shows that you value self-awareness, at least enough to claim that you have it.

Even (or perhaps especially) if you're right that a claim to be self-aware is negatively correlated with true awareness, it's still a useful question, because people who are similarly (not) self-aware will be matched together. If ignorance is bliss, mutual ignorance must be heaven.

In spite of quibbling over details, I'd still agree that the corner psychic is probably more accurate than most online match-making

Tyler said...

If the question were something like "List those attributes that you think most describe you" and there were no prompts—or even if there were prompts, though I believe that would lessen somewhat the value of the question— and respondents said they valued self-awarenessI might agree with you. But the question is "Are you self-aware" and I believe that is about as valuable as "Are you ethical" or "Are you a good person" and, from my experience in the classroom, I surmise that every person will answer "Yes" to these sort of questions.
This is simply because, once the question has been asked, the respondent has been informed that the subject of the question is the sort of thing they ought to value, whether they do or not, and they will claim to value it every time. They will not, especially if not self-aware—and self-awareness is, in fact, in short supply—answer the question honestly, even if they know what the honest answer is. They respondent by being guided by an image of the self they would like to be, rather than the self they are—of course, this is a hallmark of being un-self-aware.
Expecting most people to fairly evaluate themselves is more or less like expecting them to act with full rationality. As nice as it may be in theory, it rarely reflects the actual situation.
But, I do agree with you on the larger issue.

Tyler said...

You are almost certainly right that those few respondents who answer that they are not self-aware will either be those who value self-awareness very highly and think they don't quite measure up or those who just don't think it is valuable. And matching such people up wouldn't be the worst strategy.