What’s a Pulse Survey?

Young person using phone late at night in bed

One of the ongoing challenges of researching media and technology is that the digital landscape changes rapidly, often outpacing the research. Pulse Surveys help us keep up.

Pulse Surveys allow us to collect data quickly, returning to similar audiences and measuring participants’ opinions and experiences on various topics. We conducted our first Pulse Survey in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic as a way of “taking the pulse” of how parents were feeling about their children’s quarantine media use and experiences with remote schooling.

We returned to this population in the summer of 2021, when pandemic restrictions were loosened in order to determine whether parents’ attitudes about their child’s media use and the effects that they report changed along with the context. We thought parents might report more media use and more positive impacts of their child’s social media use during the pandemic when other avenues of social interactions were limited. However, our findings were very similar between the two surveys; parents even said their child used more media compared to the previous summer. It seems that patterns of use established during the pandemic are sticking around.

We’ve just completed our third Pulse Survey, this time of adolescents (ages 13-17), asking about their general media use, perceived effects, and more. We’ll be able to compare these responses to those from parents of children the same ages.

Here at the Lab, our perspective is that media is not inherently positive or negative. Thus, when asking questions about how media use affects the respondent, we give a full scale to choose from (e.g. “Very harmful” to “Very helpful” versus asking “How harmful do you think media use is?”). We want to reduce bias by framing questions this way. Further, it allows us to look more closely at the percentage who respond negatively and explore through analysis what factors might put a child at higher risk of being adversely impacted by media use.

Stay tuned! We’ll be publishing the results of our latest Pulse Survey in August.