Perceptions are not reality, Indians need to be better informed: Ipsos Study

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Indians one of the most inaccurate nationalities in their perceptions of key issues of national importance


Mumbai, 15 December, 2017 —India receive the dubious honour of being the 5 most inaccurate in their perceptions on key global issues according to Ipsos’ latest “Perils of Perception” survey.

The Ipsos survey highlights how wrong the online public across 38 countries are about key global issues in their country.

Parijat Chakraborty, Executive Director, Ipsos Public Affairs said, “On many subjects – murder rates, terrorist deaths, teenage pregnancy, diabetes and how healthy people feel – things are NOT as bad as they seem!”

We get some things very wrong in India…

Murder rate: the large majority of people in India think the murder rate is higher now than in 2000, when it is around, 29% lower.  60% think it’s higher, 23% think it’s about the same, and only 11% correctly guess that it is lower.

Terrorism: only 18% of Indians correctly say that deaths from terrorist attacks in India were lower between 2002-2016 than they were between 1985-2000.  44% think deaths from terrorism were higher over the last 15 years and 32% think they were about the same, when in fact they came down from 10138 to 8174.

Foreign born prisoners: Indians think that immigrants make up a much greater proportion of the Indian prison population, than they actually do; we guessed an average of 17% of all prisoners were born in a foreign country, but the actual figure is 1.5% (in line with immigrants’ share of the overall population).

Teenage pregnancy: we hugely overestimate the proportion of 15-19-year-old women and girls giving birth each year. We think it’s 25% (one in four) when the actual figure is only 2.3%.

Vaccines: 80% of Indians are unsure or believe that there is a link between some vaccines and autism in healthy children despite the claim being widely discredited: 44% believe the statement to be true and 36% say they don’t know, with 20% saying it is false.

“Some of the patterns are also worrying for our own decisions: our uncertainty about the link between vaccines and autism in healthy children, despite this being widely discredited, can affect our behaviour and therefore health outcomes in the nation” said Chakraborty.

Diabetes: we significantly overestimate the prevalence of diabetes – we think that 38% of people in India have diabetes, when the actual figure is around 9%.

Good health: more generally, we think other people report their health as worse than they actually do.  Our average guess is that 54% of people say their health is good or very good, but actually70% say their health is good or very good.

Smartphone ownership:  we overestimate how many of us are connected by technologyFor example, we think that 74% of people in India own a smartphone, when only 22% do.

Facebook membership: and similarly, we overestimate Facebook membership, with an average guess that 64% of Indians aged 13+ have a Facebook account, when the actual figure is a only about 25%.

We also asked globally some more “festive” questions, about our spiritual beliefs, as well as which countries have the sweetest tooth and greatest thirst for alcohol…

Alcohol: India has a global image as light drinkers: looking at the responses across all countries, we are ranked 31st most likely to be picked out as the highest consumers of alcohol from the 38 countries polled followed by Turkey, Singapore, Israel, Saudi Arabia. Indians are bang on about their booziness.

Sugar: and we have this perception about being sweet-toothed. We asked people to select the countries they believe consume the most sugar per person from our list – and India was the 11th most mentioned across all participants in the study, vis-à-vis a clear winner in the USA.  In fact, India stands at the 35th place in consumption of sugar from the 35 countries included in this question – lowest consumer of sugar in the world – but again our self-image is that we have a sweeter tooth than we do: 62% of people in India think we’re in the top 3 biggest consumers of sugar. While factually we are at the bottom of the heap.

Belief in Heaven, Hell and God: we think other Indians are less religious or spiritual than they are – but we are quite accurate about the number of people who believe in Hell. We think that 56% of people believe in Heaven and 52% believe in Hell, but in representative surveys, 68% say they believe in Heaven and 59% say they believe in Hell. We are way off in our guesses at belief in God. Our average guess was 66% of people in India believe in God, while in actual a whopping 97% say they do.

Across all 38 countries in the study, each population gets a lot wrong. We are often most incorrect on factors that are widely discussed in the media, such as deaths from terrorism, murder rates, immigration and teenage pregnancy.

There are multiple reasons for these errors – from our struggle with math’s and proportions, to media and political coverage of issues, to social psychology explanations of our mental shortcuts or biases.

But in particular, we know from previous studies that this is partly because we overestimate what we worry about: the more we see coverage of an issue, the more prevalent we think it is, especially if that coverage is frightening or threatening.  Our brains process negative information differently – it sticks with us and affects how we see realities. We’re more worried than we should be about how our countries are and how they’re changing.



Some of the key patterns globally are:

Only 7% of people think the murder rate is lower in their country than it was in 2000 – but it is significantly down in most countries, and, across the countries overall, it’s down 29%.

Only 19% think deaths from terrorist attacks are lower in the last 15 years than they were in the 15 years before that – when they are significantly down across most of these countries, and overall, they are around half the level they were.

People hugely overestimate the proportion of prisoners in their countries who are immigrants: the average guess is 28% when it’s actually only 15%.

Teen pregnancy is overestimated across the world, often by a staggering amount.  Overall, the average guess is that 20% of teenage girls give birth each year when the reality is 2%.  And some countries guess that around half of teenage girls give birth each year, when the highest actual figure in any country is 6.7%.

Six in ten people across the countries are unsure or believe that there is a link between some vaccines and autism in healthy children, despite the claim being widely discredited – only 42% think it is false.

Russia is seen as the booziest nation in the world, when they actually only rank 7th. Very few correctly pick out Belgium as the highest alcohol drinking nation in the study.

“We also have the wrong image of other countries in many instances: Russia and America’s image as hard drinkers probably come from cultural cues we see widely in entertainment – while Belgians get off lightly as they don’t feature so much!  But there is some truth in these national images: the USA is also correctly nailed for its sweet-tooth!, added Chakraborty.

But the USA is correctly seen as having the sweetest tooth, a clear winner, picked well ahead of any other country.

People generally overestimate how connected by technology we are, with the average guess across the countries that 75% have a Facebook account when only 46% actually do.

Looking across the seven key questions where we get people to estimate factual realities, there are clear patterns in which countries have a more accurate view of their countries.  To capture this, we’ve calculated the Ipsos “Misperceptions Index”, as shown in the table below.

“It is also clear from our “Misperceptions Index” that the countries who tend to do worst have relatively low internet penetrations: given this is an online survey, this will reflect the fact that this more middle-class and connected population think the rest of their countries are more like them than they really are,” added Chakraborty.

South Africa receive the dubious honour of being the most inaccurate in their perceptions on these issues, with Brazil and India also high up the list.

Sweden are the most accurate, followed by Norway, with Denmark in third.

Ranking Country  
1 South Africa Least accurate
2 Brazil  
3 Philippines
4 Peru  
5 India  
6 Indonesia  
7 Colombia  
8 Mexico  
9 Turkey  
10 Saudi Arabia  
11 Argentina  
12 Italy  
13 Chile  
14 Japan
15 Malaysia  
16 France  
17 South Korea  
18 Hungary  
19 New Zealand  
20 Netherlands  
21 Hong Kong  
22 Poland  
23 USA  
24 Russia  
25 Germany  
26 Australia  
27 China  
28 Singapore  
29 Israel  
30 United Kingdom  
31 Belgium  
32 Canada  
33 Serbia  
34 Montenegro  
35 Spain  
36 Denmark  
37 Norway  
38 Sweden Most accurate


Technical note:

  • These are the findings of the Ipsos MORI Perils of Perception Survey 2017. 29,133 interviews were conducted between 28th September – 19th October 2017.
  • The survey is conducted in 38 countries around the world, via the Ipsos Online Panel system in Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, United Kingdom, and the USA. The following countries used either online or face-to-face methodologies: Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway and Serbia.
  • Approximately 1000 individuals aged 16-64 or 18-64 were surveyed in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Montenegro, Norway, Russia, Serbia, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the USA. Approximately 2000 individuals aged 16-64 were surveyed in Germany. Approximately 900 individuals aged 16-64 were surveyed in Netherlands. Approximately 500 individuals aged 16-64 were surveyed in Argentina, Belgium, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, Hungary, India, Israel, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Turkey.
  • The “actual” data for each question is taken from a variety of verified sources.
  • Where results do not sum to 100, this may be due to computer rounding, multiple responses or the exclusion of don’t knows or not stated responses.
  • Data are weighted to match the profile of the population.

About Ipsos Public Affairs

Ipsos Public Affairs teams around the world conduct research on public policy issues and on the attitudes and behaviours of citizens and consumers. We also conduct public opinion research and elite stakeholder, corporate, and media opinion research. Our goal is to help our clients manage issues, advance reputations, determine and pinpoint shifts in attitude and opinion, and enhance communications.

We provide clients with information that helps them understand how they can build efficient and effective policies, programs, communications strategies, and marketing initiatives.

About Ipsos

Ipsos ranks third in the global research industry. With a strong presence in 88 countries, Ipsos employs more than 16,500 people and has the ability to conduct research programs in more than 100 countries. Founded in France in 1975, Ipsos is controlled and managed by research professionals. They have built a solid Group around a multi-specialist positioning – Media and advertising research; Marketing research; Client and employee relationship management; Opinion & social research; Mobile, Online, Offline data collection and delivery -. Ipsos has been listed on the Paris Stock Exchange since 1999.