Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Smile, S'poreans no longer 'least emotional'

Oct 01, 2013

But experts say leap in 'positivity' index shows Gallup poll is flawed

By Amelia Teng & Lim Yi Han

JUST a year after being labelled the world's most emotionless society, Singapore seems to have experienced an astonishing turnaround in the feel-good stakes.

International polling firm Gallup has now singled out the Republic as having the biggest surge in "positivity".
This means Singaporeans are likely no longer the least emotional nationality - a tag that caused disbelief and soul-searching following the poll results last year.

But it might be a little early to start jumping for joy - because the latest data forms only part of Gallup's overall emotions index, which has not yet been released.

And experts say the fluctuation in the results casts yet more doubts over its methodology.

Gallup tracks emotions in different countries using several rankings. As well as the overall index, there is a study of negativity and another tracking positivity - the one released yesterday.

It found 70 per cent of Singapore respondents reported experiencing positive emotions last year, up from 46 per cent in 2011.

This is the biggest jump among the 143 countries surveyed and catapults the Republic from the bottom of the table to the top half of the "positivity" league.

Gallup said it could be due to the "unprecedented attention" given to the 2011 study, which may have influenced Singaporeans' response to the latest survey.

"The rise (in positive emotions) took place among all demographic groups, even as other societal measures remained steady," it added.

Latin American nations Paraguay and Venezuela continued to top the index, while Syria and Iraq were ranked the lowest.

Experts say the findings raise more doubts about the poll's credibility. "Social conditions have not changed that much, but the results had a wide fluctuation," said National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan.

"This begs the question whether the survey is measuring what it claims to measure," she pointed out, adding that quantifying emotions is one of the most challenging concepts for sociologists.

MP Baey Yam Keng, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Culture, Community and Youth, told The Straits Times that the "big fluctuation says something about the survey". He added: "I think Singaporeans are forward-looking, but people sometimes tend to pick up on the negative things."

Professor David Chan, director of the Behavioural Sciences Institute at Singapore Management University, said media attention alone could not explain the increase. He pointed out that the Republic's positivity rankings were nearly as high in 2009 and 2010, even without publicity. What the Gallup survey interprets as "emotional well-being" is in fact "emotional intensity" - not the same.

"The Gallup rankings of Singapore do not tell us anything about Singaporeans' happiness or well-being in the recent years."

Meanwhile, many citizens found the results hard to believe. Said copywriter Ang Jinglin, 25: "How can it surge so much within a year? I don't think anything has changed in the past year."

Social entrepreneur Tong Yee, 39, said he was "surprised", but that "commentaries in the media may prompt people to reflect".

Method behind the survey
How data is collected
  • The surveys were first conducted in 2006.
  • About 1,000 people, aged 15 and above, in over 100 countries and areas, are polled each year via telephone or face to face.
  • Respondents are asked if they felt five positive and five negative emotions the previous day.
  • Positive emotions include feeling well rested, being treated with respect, smiling and laughing, and doing or learning something interesting.
  • Negative emotions include anger, stress, sadness, physical pain and worry.
How results are tabulated
  • The same data set is used to produce at least two scores for each country - a "positive experience" index, which factors in only responses to positive emotions; and a "negative experience" index.
  • Gallup also publishes an overall index for emotions which take into account both responses but this is not done on a yearly basis.
  • A "yes" to all questions leads to a high score on the overall index, and vice versa.
  • For instance, if a country has more people who answer "no" to feeling well rested and "yes" to being stressed, it is considered more "emotional" than another country which has more respondents answering "no" to both questions.
  • But experts say such an approach measures "emotional intensity" and not "emotional well-being".
How Singapore fared
  • Singapore came in 67th out of 143 countries in the "positive experience" index in the latest survey, which was carried out last year. The findings were released yesterday.
  • In the 2011 study, it was the least positive of 148 countries - its worst ranking since 2007, when it first took part in the study.
  • In previous years, its rankings were in the top 100 range.

Comment: Really. Are we so insecure that we need a poll to tell us how happy or sad we are? Just like how we need the official PSI numbers to tell us how bad the Haze is? And when we get the "official" numbers we don't believe it anyway! It's worse than 150 or 200 or whatever the official numbers say! 

So now we have a poll telling us we're not so unhappy after all. And we don't believe it. 

And well we shouldn't.

Really, are our emotions a closed book to us? To ourselves? 

Are we so emotionally stunted that we need a Poll to tell us how we feel? Or PSI numbers to tell us how the haze is affecting us?  

Do we go out in the haze even though our eyes are watering, our nose is running, and our head is aching simply because the Official PSI reading is ONLY 49? Or do we stay indoors, because the PSI is reported to be 200, even though we feel fine and the air doesn't seem so bad?

So what does the Gallup poll actually do for us? Make us happy about being happy? Make us sad (last year) that we were sad? Make us furious for wrongly calling us emotionally empty?

Are we THAT insecure? THAT stupid? THAT gullible? THAT unable to trust our own senses, and our own feelings?

Or is it because PAP hasn't told us how to feel about things?


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