Do You Crumple or Fold?
I already know, so don’t flood my inbox with answers.
Men fold. Women crumble.
While discussing a research project with a friend, she commented, “Did you know that most men fold and most women crumple?” “No. I did not,” snickering. She challenged me to solve that pesky problem. And who doesn’t accept a challenge like that over a pint of beer?
This is when I was working on my doctoral degree. I took several research courses. If you want a PhD, you must do research. One class required the students to perform a complete mock study. While the investigation didn’t need to show rigor or tackle any needy subject, it did need to show that we grasped the fundamentals of research methodology and statistical analysis. Thank goodness it didn’t require a literature review. Whew!
Step One: The Null Hypothesis
Research convention dictates that you start with a “null hypothesis.”
A null hypothesis is a statistical convention that suggests that no statistical relationship with significance exists in the sets of observed data. In my case, that no difference exists between the sexes regarding folding or crumpling toilet paper.
The idea of a null hypothesis is useful because it forces the researcher to conclude whether or not there is a relationship between two measured phenomena. It informs the user whether the results obtained are due to chance, or a real difference.
My null hypothesis: No difference exists between the sexes regarding folding or crumpling toilet paper.
Where would you collect your research?
I amassed volunteer assistants and trained them in my protocol. I sent them out to local pubs, armed with clipboards and pens. Those were the days before you needed stringent permission forms.
Population demographics: legal age drinkers in licensed establishments. I chose a one-question interview survey, using a forced-choice response method: “Do you crumple or fold?” To avoid potential gender tension, male research assistants approached male responders and female assistants approached female responders. I rejected responses outside the forced-choice crumple or fold options. These made up only 8% of the responses.
I gathered the data, ran my statistical analysis, then examined my results. The figures confirmed my friend’s informal hypothesis. Not only did males prefer folding and females prefer crumpling, but the results showed statistical significance at the 0.005 level.
When I submitted my paper for grading, I named it the Systematic Human Interaction with Toilets Study
I conducted this research 30 years ago. I haven’t seen it replicated. I hope someone tries.
We don’t know what millennials do.
Side note: I received an “A” in the course, but more importantly, a smile from my professor.
Mark Twain famously quipped, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” My grade didn’t require an interpretation of the data, so I leave that to you. The lies and damned lies are in the interpretation of these statistics.
Michael Rousell PhD is the author of The Power of Surprise: How Your Brain Secretly Changes Your Beliefs. He studies life-changing events.
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