Bias is something that affects us all; its all-pervasive nature means it influences everything we do from supermarket choices through to study design. But what of perception? Bias might lead the result of our study to be skewed or flawed, but if our perception of where the issue lies is incorrect we may select the wrong thing to study. So, how wrong can our perception be? Well, very, according to IPSOS MORI and their annual Perils of Perception report for 2015.[1]

This report polls members of the public in 33 countries on their understanding of key issues affecting their nation. The results show a significant gap between perception and reality across a number of issues that specifically relate to society and health in Great Britain.

Our perception of the distribution of wealth was one of the most distorted views. When asked what proportion of wealth the top 1% of the population own the guess was 59%, more than twice the true figure, which is 23%.

On immigration the perception of Britons is that 25% of the population are immigrants, nearly double the actual figure of 13%.

We also know we have an ageing population, but perhaps not to the extent we believe. The estimate of the average age of the population was 51 years old, when it is in fact 40.

With regard to obesity we may be complacent; the average estimate of the proportion of people over the age of 20 who are overweight or obese was 44% when it is in fact 62%.

And before you think that the Great British Public are better or worse than elsewhere, we are not. Ranked 16th of 33 countries in IPSOS MORI’s provocatively titled “Index of Ignorance” we are firmly in mid-table. If you are reading the blog from either Ireland or South Korea (ranked 27th and 28th) you potentially have a better perception of issues affecting your nation than if in Mexico, India and Brazil who occupy the top 3 positions. But this is not an issue that is delineated along boundaries of low-, middle- or high-income countries in case you were to infer that from the results: New Zealand is ranked at number 5 and Belgium at number 7.

So this is all good fun, interesting stuff, but what does it mean? Well certainly not that we should quietly reassure ourselves that we would have been much closer to the real figure than most of the population. Bias and perception issues are at their most insidious when we fail to acknowledge that we may be subject to them.

These findings are in fact an endorsement of the way, as CLAHRCs, we structure what we do. By bringing together academics, patients and those involved in delivering care, we challenge each others perceptions of the issues related to service delivery. That way we can work collaboratively to solve that issues that are in fact real issues, rather than those which we perceive to be the issue.

— Paul Bird, CLAHRC WM Head of Programme Delivery (Engagement)


  1. Ipsos MORI. Perils of Perception 2015. 2015.

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