Reporter 408, 20 October 1997


Million pound probe reveals unearthly consumer attitudes

Half the British people believe in telepathy, while almost as many are convinced of the existence of UFOs and ghosts. These are among the more surprising findings of futura.com, the country’s biggest attitudes survey which is currently being run at the University. James Diamond reports.

The three-year £1 million research project, carried out by the Institute of Communications Studies, is the most comprehensive piece of social research into consumer attitudes of recent times. It has already discovered that people can be divided into four personality types: embracer, resistor, pragmatist, and traditionalist. This information will have commercial value for companies launching new products.

Project head Dr David Morrison describes futura.com as “attempting to understand the ordinary person and their behaviour with regard to technological change. No one else is attempting to do anything like this quantitatively and probably qualitatively as well. For social science this represents big science.”

Close to 15,000 adults from 6,000 households have completed questionnaires which cover the full spectrum of social behaviour. Set questions range from ‘should pubs stay open longer?’ to ‘do you feel powerless to change events and policies?’ In addition to the questionnaires, 150 focus groups have been set up for in-depth discussion of findings.

The first results were released in the summer, when preliminary findings about people’s beliefs in late twentieth-century Britain received national media coverage. Dr Morrison says the results were stimulating, while those suggesting mass belief in the paranormal were rather puzzling.

“I was surprised by the level of belief in the mystical, even those with the most advanced technology such as modems are no less likely to believe in UFOs, life after death or abduction by aliens than people who hadn’t adopted new technology,” he says. “Co-existing with science is a belief in the mystical. We found that people don’t need a belief in science to adopt new technology.” The survey revealed that one in three households are planning to buy a PC next year and half of us think that using a computer has changed our lives. However, only half of us would eat genetically engineered food.

Futura.com has also found that Britain is dividing into four new personality types. One in three people are resistors. They have low self-esteem, feel lost without television and believe in horoscopes. Embracers are Information Age yuppies with the lowest social conscience. Pragmatists help others and don’t treat technology as a fashion accessory, whilst traditionalists uphold old-fashioned values and are the smallest group in Britain.

“What is interesting about these findings is that the four groups seem to cut across traditional social and economic groups,” comments Dr Morrison. “Identifying the new groups could help companies who want to understand how consumers will react to new products and concepts."

The futura.com project has received financial sponsorship from the Independent Television Commission, BBC and IBM, and researchers have used a large quantitative survey by employing pollsters NOP. Futura. com will report in full in the year 2000.

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