What happens when you ask 10,000 people: "How do you feel about ....?"

It has been over a year since I started asking one simple open-ended survey question:"Please share a few words that best describe how you feel about ..." The topics were wildly different: "eating chocolate" vs. "craving chocolate", "shopping at your favourite store", "doing banking" vs. "being responsible for my family banking", "the future of the planet", Millennial's feelings about their career, and using Facebook, brand Uber, having a period, Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, competition vs. collaboration, and many more. Here are the three things I learned.

First. I was surprised that the overwhelming majority of people choose to answer my open-ended questions. They don't skip them, don't write the typical "dk", or angry "get lost." They are very open and honest. Some responders share a couple of words, some write a sentence, a few write a whole paragraph. For a market research analyst turned psychologist, this text data is incredibly rich and multi-coloured. It also gives me exactly what I am looking for - clean text data within the context that I can control.

So what? I encourage market researchers to stop asking "Why" questions and start asking "How do you feel" questions if you really want to understand your customer in a time- and cost-effective way.

Then, I started wondering if people ACTUALLY LIKE ANSWERING my questions. Despite the common belief that panel responders are sick and tired of surveys, I felt I found one question that people actually enjoy.

But why? A 2012 study published in Psychological Science showed that putting feelings into words could help us cope with stress. Psychologists did an experiment to see if verbalizing current negative emotions might be effective in helping people with spider phobias. 

"Participants who put their negative feelings into words were most effective at lowering their levels of physiological arousal. They were also slightly more willing to approach the spider. The findings suggest that talking about your feelings - even if they're negative - may help you to cope with a scary situation."

On June 24th, right after I learned about Brexit news, I launched a HEARTBEAT Pulse survey in UK - a one-question survey on Google Survey platform asking 300 "gen.pop" responders across UK how they feel about the future of their country. People shared their emotions from their heart: "concerned and saddened,"  "Very bleak and old fashioned. Us young people have been neglected," "When i think about the future of our country, i feel that unless we all learn how to pull together, we'll be in for a rocky ride...until we Do learn how to!"

Finally, when I started sharing our Emotion Analytics maps during presentations or on social media, people often displayed a strong reaction of empathy and curiosity. Seeing other people's emotions - especially Sadness, Anger, and Fear - quantified in a way that does not explain or simplify them into positive/negative creates an opening, a possibility to learn something new, and wonder what other people feel. 

(To play with this dynamic map and see what people in UK feel about the future of their country this week, please click here (n=300). To compare it with US, Australia and Canada - check out this chart.)