Data Analysis / Perceptions of Talent

Data collection has finally come to an end for the Big Running Survey. I’m pleased to say that we’ve exceeded our targets, obtaining a total of almost 2,500 responses. Thank you so much to everyone who participated.

Over the coming weeks I’m going to be embarking on the data analysis and will publish updates on this blog to let all of those who took part have access to what we’ve found. From beginning to end it will take a few months as I’m simultaneously writing the PhD thesis of which this is a part, so expect a drip-drip of findings rather than a deluge!

I’ve already done a bit of exploratory analysis on the data just to get a feel for where interesting patterns and relationships are likely to appear. I’ve already discovered some quite surprising relationships, and I’m looking forward to exploring them a bit more when we move on to the interviewing stage of the project.

For instance (and in the spirit of International Women’s Day) the little table below tells us something very interesting about one of the differences between men’s and women’s relationship to running.

The table shows the mean scores for runners’ self-perceptions of their running talent. Scores were on a scale of 1 to 7. As you can see I have split them down by respondents’ gender and by their frequency of winning a medal for running in the last year (not simply for participation, but because they finished high up the field).

Running talent by gender

The medal winning frequency is a rough indicator of how good the respondents really are at running. You would expect frequent medalists to be amongst the most talented runners.

What I find really interesting here is that men are significantly more sure of their natural talent than women. Even those men that don’t medal at all rate themselves as being (on average) only marginally less talented than medalling women, and not much less talented than the top female runners. And men who win the occasional medal rate themselves considerably more talented than the top women’s group.

What does this tell us? Is it a reflection of women’s tendency to underestimate themselves or to want to avoid appearing boastful or competitive? (something that men, perhaps, are less reticent about!) Or is it something to do with the fact that in a mass participation race the average woman will usually finish a little way behind the average man, giving the man the impression he has done better because his finishing place appears to be above average, with the woman having the opposite experience?

At this stage I’m not in a position to say, but more data analysis and the interviews might help to shed some more light on this. It’s important, because whether or not we consider ourselves good at something is one of the factors that determines whether and how much we participate. Could women’s lower self-perceptions of talent be one of the factors that contribute to their lower levels of participation in running in general and in competitive running in particular? (more on this in later articles)

If you have any other thoughts or ideas on how this gender difference could be interpreted I would love to hear them. Please let me know using the comments section below.

This really is just the tip of a rather massive (and intimidating) iceberg in terms of what we’re going to be able to get from the data. Future posts will cover a lot more ground, but I thought it would be worth posting this to mark the start of the results coming through.

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8 thoughts on “Data Analysis / Perceptions of Talent

  1. Anna

    The results above are akin to many other situations where there is a gender difference eg. Confidence in having discussions with boss about pay rise. Women’s responses may have something to do with ‘imposter syndrome’ which many women experience compared to men. Good stuff, looking forward to hearing more.

    • Neil Baxter Post author

      Sadly true, Anna. There’s a great deal of stuff coming on gender, so I hope you fin it interesting.

  2. Ed

    Great post Neil, I like the way you’re engaging the audience throughout the process and have managed to summarise your findings so far- hopefully you should get some good engagement this way. Very impressive.


  3. Gill Cooke

    one theory: (in the spirit of International Women’s Day and slightly tongue in cheek!) maybe women evaluate themselves more accurately and maybe men think they’re better than they really are?

    • Neil Baxter Post author

      I think you may well be right! Or it might be a bit of both: on average men rate themselves as somewhat more 3.5 out of 7 (i.e. the half way point in the scale) and women rate themselves slightly below.

  4. Angie Francis

    Interesting. Maybe it’s because men are more naturally likely to ‘talk themselves up’. I was reading that women who emulate this behaviour in the work place get further than women who don’t.

    Best wishes with your thesis.

    • Neil Baxter Post author

      Yes, this is a phenomenon that holds across a wide range of social contexts. And women who do try emulate the more ‘masculine’ approach suffer another kind of resistance. Quite depressing really – especially as the father of two little girls!

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