Cognitive tests and 'Big 5’ traits: Wave 3 data released

Cognitive ability, political engagement, and our social and family networks are just three of the new modules in Understanding Society’s latest data release.

Wave 3 of Understanding Society, available now from the UK Data Service, contains interviews with nearly 50,000 adults and 4,500 children (age 10-15). Integrated with 18 years of data from the long-standing British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), Wave 3 provides up to 21 years of evidence about the changing nature of our society.

New modules of the questionnaire cover broad topics, however the key innovation of the Mainstage Questionnaire is the introduction of the Cognitive Ability module.

Cognitive function across the life course

This extended set of questions, made possible by additional funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), allowed interviewers to ask a series of tests specifically designed to measure memory, concentration and numeracy.

Nick Buck, Director, Understanding Society, said:

“Cognitive ability is related to the life chances of individuals – educational and occupational achievement. It is also related to a number of health outcomes. For the first time, researchers can now review cognitive function across the life course – from ages 16 to 103 – making Wave 3 a highly useful resource.”

Questions relating to cognitive ability include:

  • Word recall: respondents were asked to remember a list of 10 words and repeat them back to the interviewer immediately and 10 minutes later
  • Subtraction: deduct 7 from 100 and then 7 from that answer, and repeat (e.g., 93 – 7, 86 – 7 etc). This tests working memory, processing, disposal and retrieval of information.
  • Number sequences: which number fills the gap in a particular sequence? The use of abstract thought to solve novel problems, a measure of ‘fluid intelligence’.
  • Verbal fluency: how many animals can the respondent name in a minute?
  • Numeric ability: a series of short number puzzles to measure the use of numbers in everyday life.

In addition to cognitive ability, the Understanding Society Wave 3 release contains new questions about:

  • Local neighbourhood: how satisfied are we with local services? How strong is our neighbourhood cohesion?
  • Social networks: who are our friends? Do we mix with people who are similar to us?
  • Family networks: how often do parents see their children living outside the household? What sort of help do we give – or receive – from family members?
  • Political engagement: how strong is our sense of civic duty? How do we feel about the major political parties? Do we need more information to make an informed choice in the election?
  • Child development & parenting styles: do we encourage our children to tell us how they’re feeling? What kinds of parents are we shaping up to be?
  • The ‘Big 5’ personality traits: where do we fit in when it comes to agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness, extraversion and neuroticism – and how does this affect our opinions and behaviour?

How to access Wave 3 data

To download Understanding Society data, you must register with the UKDS. Find full details about accessing our data in the Getting Started guide.

To access the full User Guide and the long-term content plan, visit the Main Survey Documentation section.

Impact and usage examples

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Photo credit: Nyul