Cognitive Daily

The results of the first Casual Friday survey are in, and I have to say, I’m impressed at the level of response. Greta mentioned to one of her colleagues that we had collected 213 responses in five days, and his eyes lit up with excitement. Just to give you an idea of how large this sample is, Davidson College’s psychology department has around 200 participant slots for an entire semester.

Granted, we wouldn’t have achieved the level of response we got if our survey had been a 200 question monster, but even with just five questions, we were able to get significant results.

Now, about those results. Last week’s survey was inspired by a pattern I thought I’d noticed when I was out running. Davidson is a friendly town — nearly everyone you see says hello, and if you hear a car horn, it’s more likely to be someone acknowledging a friend walking by than a warning or admonition. But when I’m out running, it’s rare for anyone besides other runners to say hello, even when I say “hi” to them first. Is this a local phenomenon? Something about my personal demeanor that suggests that I’m too busy or preoccupied? Now we’ve got enough data to start to answer that question.

First, the basics. 71.8 percent of the respondents were male and 26.8 percent were female (in cases where the percentages don’t add up to 100, it’s because a few people skipped the question). Of course, this may not reflect the readership of Cognitive Daily as a whole. It’s possible that men were disproportionately interested in the survey. 46.9 percent said females were more likely to say “hi,” 38 percent said males were, and 15 percent skipped the question, suggesting they felt males and females were equally likely to say hello. The female/male difference, however, was not significant.

Let’s take a closer look at the responses to the survey. Here’s a simple graph of the responses to the first question:


By far the largest group is walkers, at over 48.8 percent. The next largest group, runners, was just 16.4 percent. So, who says “hi”?


Again, walkers top the list, but here, dog walkers are nearly as friendly, and statistically indistinguishable. Who do our respondents say “hi” to?


The pattern here appears to be similar to the previous chart. Could the answer to the question be as simple as “we say hi to the people who say hi to us?” Looking closer at this chart, it appears that in each case, the respondents claim to say “hi” a little more than they are said “hi” to. However, our analysis revealed no statistical difference.

Where we do find significant results is when we break down the data according to the fitness activity they participate in. Take a look at this graph:

Here we have some clear, significant findings. They’re not terribly surprising — bikers say they say hi to other bikers, walkers to walkers, and so on — but they’re statistically significant. The fascinating wrinkle comes when we compare that graph to this one:

Runners report that they say “hi” to walkers 57.1 percent of the time. But looking back at the other graph, walkers claim runners only say “hi” only 31 percent of the time. That’s a massive difference — a statistically significant one. A similar — and also significant — disparity holds for bikers and walkers.

So what’s going on here? There are a couple of possibilities. It may be that the bikers and runners who responded to the survey are just friendlier than average. These people are accurately indicating how often they say “hi,” but when you go out in the real world, most bikers and runners are not that nice. It’s possible that bikers and runners deliberately exaggerated how often they say “hi” in an effort to improve their image. Or it could be that bikers and runners think they say “hi” more often than they really do.

My hunch, though, is that walkers don’t notice the runners and bikers saying “hi” to them. After all, runners and bikers are moving quickly. Walkers often go in pairs, and may be engaged in conversation. Maybe they just can’t hear the bikers and runners above the huffing and puffing and clicking and whirring. This also corresponds to my own experience as I’m running — walkers are often distracted, while I’m steadily focused on the road ahead, and wondering why walkers always seem so unfriendly!

Do you have any other explanations? Feel free to share them, or any other thoughts about this data, in the comments. We’ll post the next Casual Friday study later today.


  1. #1 patti digh
    January 20, 2006

    here’s my unscientific, boring and self-revelatory explanation for my own behavior – I often hesitate to say hi to runners (when I’m walking) because I fear I’ll disturb them, their breathing, etc….perhaps I’m just transferring onto them the knowledge that if I were running, I’d be panting and about to faint, unable to speak much less say “hi.” Perhaps there are other walkers out there who also hesitate for the same reason.

  2. #2 Scott Reynen
    January 22, 2006

    Couldn’t the difference also be accounted for if your readers were just more likely to say “hi” than the general public?

  3. #3 Scott Reynen
    January 22, 2006

    Or maybe people just think they say “hi” more than they actually do?

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