We live in a hyper-connected digital age where information from any part of the world is accessible with a single click of a button.

But what if you were told that your perception of various global trends, even as educated informed citizens, is distorted and far from reality?

Don’t take our word for it! Renowned Swedish physician and statistician Hans Rosling and his foundation Gapminder quizzed thousands of people on basic global trends (famously known as the ‘Factfulness Quiz’) and found that people around the world consistently performed very poorly. So much so that even a Chimpanzee selecting answers at random would have a better chance of getting the answers right!

To be clear, these were not trick questions or questions that checked for memorization of facts. They were basic questions on topics such as poverty, world population, health, environment, etc to assess how aware we are of general global trends.

We at milieu were curious to see how Singaporeans would fare in this same Factfulness Quiz! Do we too hold exaggeratedly wrong worldviews that we are unaware of?

To this end, we conducted a milieu survey with 1699 Singaporeans, weighted for age and gender, and quizzed them on the 13 questions from the Factfulness Quiz.

What did we find?

Out of the 13 questions, majority Singaporeans voted for the right answer for only 3 of them.

This sounds dismal but a large number of respondents from 14 different countries ranging from Japan to UK to US too consistently performed very poorly.

Here are the questions that majority Singaporeans got wrong.

So what does this tell about us?

We often believe the world to be a far worse place than it actually is.

For instance, 63% of respondents think that only 20% of girls in lower-income countries finish primary school (the correct answer is 60%). Furthermore, only 18% correctly answered that in the last 20 years the proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has halved (43% think that it has doubled).

But why do we hold these exaggerated negative worldviews? The fact that this is observed across various countries consistently suggests that the results are not chance findings or true of only Singaporeans, but point to a systematic and fundamental problem worldwide.

Some of the reasons may include:

  • Personal bias: we all harbour some personal bias as a result of the communities we grow up in and the people we meet. Our communities are increasingly online, and a troubling issue of today’s social-media frenzy world is the propagation of misleading facts or “fake news”. Facebook and Whatsapp have often come under fire for not being able to contain the same. The problem is further compounded by creation of “echo chambers” because social media platforms often show you content based on your previous preferences and engagements. Thus, we often seek information which reinforces our existing views, creating a sort of confirmation bias. This way, overdramatic facts are often circulated and repeated thereby reinforcing our wrong belief systems.
  • Education system: Our world has been changing radically and rapidly over the last decades. However, the education system is often not reflective of that. Teachers tend to hold on to older worldviews that they grew up with and teaching courses are not updated quickly enough. These are then passed down to the newer generation, thus creating a pessimistic, outdated view of the world.
  • News and media: the content we consume through various media channels is often dominated by negative headlines and stories because it is what grabs eyeballs. Bad news catches our attention and evokes a stronger reactions because we are often driven by our primal fear instinct. This perpetuates a vicious cycle where we. Sensation and unusual events are more interesting, exaggerated. Shark attack.
  • The Gap Instinct: This misconception is based on the idea that the majority of the world thinks that the world is divided into just two groups, the developed (rich) and the developing (poor). However, the distinction is more granular and majority of the “developing” world is getting closer to the “developed” world in terms of access to basic necessities such as food, water, electricity, etc.

However, not all is gloom and doom. Singaporeans got 3 of them correct, which is at par with the global average.

96% Singaporeans were right about the fact that in the next 100 years, the average temperature will get warmer.

This is consistent with the performance world-wide (in fact Singapore fared better than other countries). About 86% of people tend to get this answer right because over the last decade, climate change has been a constant point of discussion by experts in the public domain and this has trickled down to the average person. Climate change was also one of the three themes touched upon by PM Lee at the NDP Rally 2009 (insert link to our findings).

Thus, when the messaging in mass media and educational systems is done right and consistently over time, public awareness tends to be greater. The hope is that this public awareness success story of climate change can be replicated in other domains too.

We also tend to have more correct opinions for facts that are directly relevant and relatable to us such as life expectancy.

With these results we hope to drive the point that not everything we assume about the world is necessarily true. It is important to continually question, challenge, and update the worldviews we hold so that we sieve out misconceptions and channelise our thinking and decisions towards things that actually matter.

Questions for the Quiz were taken from Gapminder.org, CC-BY LICENSE