Researchers from Northwestern University want Furries to answer their survey.
by Patch O'Furr
When pop culture notices furry fans, it loves leaping to conclusions. The internet has porn, and the weird furry stuff can make people’s eyes bug out and stick in their minds. So is that what being a furry is about? Some people have a kink for that – is it fair to stick all furry fans in that category?
The assumed link of furries and sex is often made thoughtlessly by outsiders. It’s the topic furries love to hate. But despite the attention, I’m told that no serious research has been done on this. Sure, there have been surveys that ask blanket questions about sex orientation, or a selection of certain kinks. But there isn’t enough broad knowledge for anybody to be fully informed. That’s bad for two reasons.
First, common beliefs can’t be challenged or disproved without data. Second, if data does support some of these beliefs, then the topic deserves better understanding. Objective answers reduce assumptions. It can replace fear and rumor with real information. Informed people make a more tolerant society. There are more gay people in this subculture than general society – the reason isn’t clear, but their socializing has gained more tolerance with understanding. Other questioned activities may be reconciled too.
Researchers from Northwestern University in Illinois are spreading a survey about these sensitive and murky topics. They intend to research relations between furry fan sexuality, and their identities and personalities. Their survey is on lesser studied aspects of this.
Disclaimer: to avoid making bias, I can’t guess or tell specific aims behind their work. Building studies and their methodology is out of my area, anyways. All I can do is pick apart interpretation of statistics afterwards. I did spend time talking with the researchers and emphasizing respect. I told them to hold their cards and not tell me what the survey is testing, to prevent bias in sharing. That leaves it up to you to choose how to respond.
The survey is only linked, with no endorsement. The content and wording doesn’t in any way represent anyone at this Furry news blog. Other than this post, it has zero input from here. The researchers promised that they don’t intend to use the results to stigmatize or sensationalize. They say they aim to be objective, respectful, and non-judgmental. They want to contribute to greater, more balanced, and scientific understanding. While I don’t know their goals, I think greater involvement in research could mitigate the dishonest kind of media attention people don’t like.
With high sensitivity, and bad-intentioned people in the world, let’s strongly oppose misuse of data. This is for research and journalism (don’t shoot the messenger!) It’s not for anyone to use for entertainment, clickbait, attack on reputation or ammunition in any sort of dispute. I don’t consent to being part of any such activity, and will go way out of my way to protect people from it.
The survey content may be uncomfortable for some people. The researchers don’t want takers who are under 18. There are questions about unusual sexual interests. If it causes discomfort or distress, or makes you unwilling to answer openly, it’s not for you. However, the survey is hosted anonymously and doesn’t collect IP or any other I.D. It will take 30-45 minutes. You don’t have to answer every question, and can withdraw at any time without consequence.
Again, the survey is intended only for research and not for any other activity. If you have comments, let me have it below. If you want to participate and help out, please go here for more information:
Hello, my name is Kevin Hsu, and I’m the lead researcher on this survey study of furries. A big thanks to Patch O’Furr and Dogpatch Press for graciously offering to host my survey and for writing what I think is a very accurate and thoughtful post about the study and my intentions behind it. I highly recommend reading the post before taking the survey, as it is a good introduction for why this study should be done and might reduce misgivings concerning the sexuality aspect. For those who have already taken the survey – thank you so much for participating and helping out with research! If anyone has questions or issues to raise (technical or otherwise), I can be reached at email@example.com. Thanks again everyone
The Northwestern study concerns me greatly, there is not contact information for a principle investigator and the informed consent document does not clearly state that the survey was approvied by Northwestern University IRB (Human Subjects Protection). They should have provided a contact for the IRB in the case that someone had problems and also thePI and his/her supervisor if the PI is a graduate student. I also find it incredibly odd that they do not pointedly ask participants in the beginning if they are a furry. There is a page near the end with many identities on it, of which furry is one. As a social psychologist, anthrozoologist and researcher who began the line of furry research in psychology, with the utmost care and respect, I think the Northwestern U furry study is shameful. I am glad that furry and therian groups I have approached have asked to see IRB approval.
Kathy Gerbasi, PhD
Niagara County Community College
Member IARP, International Anthropomorphic Research Project
Thanks for commenting. Kevin’s contact info is in the comment above. I was told that there was an application for IRB approval a year and a half ago that gained general permission to start work. I got an impression that research on little covered (specific) areas encounter a paradox – how can it gain support to start, if nobody else has started something that can add support? I had an impression that it’s in progress because developments may affect the approach, but I don’t have any information about that. Contact Kevin directly with questions.
The headline here aims the survey at Furry fans. Please bring it up if there’s any reason to think it might draw responses from others.
Criticism is definitely healthy. It might be worth noting that “competitor” comments may need to be taken differently than comments from the subjects of the study.
>> “how can it gain support to start, if nobody else has started something that can add support?”
There is a difference between providing *ethical approval* and providing a defensible theoretical rationale. We don’t know what their rationale is, and that is fine, but we are entitled to know if the appropriate governing bodies have reviewed and approved this survey, especially since it is asking people in great detail about very personal aspects of their lives.
Ideally, ethical approval in the cover letter should look something like this:
“This study has been granted clearance according to the recommended principles of the American Psychological Association’s ethics guidelines, and Northwestern Universities policies. Any ethical concerns about the study may be directed to the Chair of the General Research Ethics Board at Northwestern University. They may be reached at 123-456-7890 or firstname.lastname@example.org”
The fact that information isn’t provided has me concerned that IRB approval was never obtained or isn’t taken seriously. Further, the fact that since its inception J. Michael Bailey has inserted his/her contact info into the cover letter AFTER data collection began shows that even if IRB approval was obtained, it isn’t being consistently followed.
Do let me know if Kevin can answer the issues.
Thanks to both Dr. Gerbasi and SQRL for raising some legitimate concerns. We have received IRB approval to conduct this study. That is not necessarily something that is always required to be stated in an online consent, as any research study openly being circulated should be assumed to have such approval. It is on the research team to ensure that approval has been obtained before the survey is made public, not on the participants. It is conceivable other institutions require that IRB approval always be explicit in online consent, but I believe there are nuances that distinguish different IRBs, and this seems to be one of them. If you’d like to discuss this more, I can be reached at email@example.com, as stated above.
For reasons I’m not going to get into here, I was caught off guard when this survey was first posted to this site. Therefore, I didn’t have certain things added (like Dogpatch Press as an option for where you heard about the survey), and apparently, the portion that listed the PI was cut off due to formatting issues. These things were fixed as soon as I noticed them. So thank you to those who pointed out the oversight. At this time, there will be no further changes.
To viewers, the “caught off guard” comment means that reviewing was hoped before posting. I posted because I didn’t remember that in the details of juggling a regular post schedule, (typically don’t), also I asked how fast this should go out and the answer was soon.
Just some thoughts from me:
*Survey asked me things that I’ve never even considered before, and that have never been on my radar. In one sense, it was confusing, and in another, it was thought-provoking. I had trouble answering some things that came out entirely out left field for me. This may have led to inconsistent responses on my part.
*Many of the questions about transvestism, cross-dressing, and imagining myself as a female were awkward and irrelevant in my case, given that I am actually biologically female, and those questions often seemed to assume that I was male.
*The survey *appears* to take a rather unidimensional or binaristic approach to sex. It doesn’t seem to take into account how power, fear, desire, love, longing, shame, attachment, and the need to conquer one’s personal demons can all become seamlessly interwoven with feelings of arousal or attraction. Arousal or attraction isn’t just about madly jerking off in response to a stimulus. Many women define, interpret, and even, experience sexual arousal differently from many men in this regard. Granted, I could be projecting my own assumptions onto these questions here, but this was just the “vibe” I picked up.
So, someone might be “aroused” by the idea of becoming a particular animal because they relish the thought of becoming greater, stronger, more powerful, more respected, or more beautiful than they currently are, and not so much because they find tails or scales “so hawt” per se. The survey doesn’t even seem to attempt to explore this angle in depth, as near as I could see.
*I might have appreciated an arousal scale that incorporated negative numbers, because some of the stimulii or ideas listed actively disgust, threaten, or bother me. In those cases, it’s not just a matter of “No interest;” it’s a matter of DO NOT WANT.
*What I *assume* was an ASD measure was interesting, and I might tend to expand it to incorporate other types of LDs and cognitive/personality “quirks.” I also thought the measure was slanted every-so-slightly towards males with ASD, as there’s been some interesting research indicating that females with ASD are a little different from males.
*Both a friend and I noticed that the survey didn’t seem to ask about one’s reactions to *someone else* wearing a fursuit. In any case, we found questions in that section confusing.
*Overall, I find the topic of sex rather droll and quaint at this point, and I deeply appreciate being asked about non-sexual things, too, especially since I’m much more passionate about and involved in the non-sexual aspects of the fandom, and find them to be much more interesting, especially from a psychological or anthropological standpoint.
Thanks for taking the survey and for leaving some feedback, Troj. Ideally, potential participants should avoid reading this comment before taking the survey in order to avoid bias in responses. But I would like to respond to some of what you said:
That’s okay if you had trouble answering the questions or felt you were inconsistent, as long as you felt that you answered as honestly as possible. As mentioned, you are free to answer or skip any questions in the survey.
The questions about cross-dressing and transvestism are not necessarily ones that can only be answered by men. Women also can and do cross-dress. The questions about imagining yourself as a woman are questions that can also be answered as a woman. Without going into much detail, similar kinds of questions have been asked of women in other studies and serve a purpose. I apologize that it was confusing and awkward for you.
While those things you listed may very well be related to people’s feelings of arousal or attraction, they were not the focus of the current study. Given the length of the survey as is and the preliminary nature of this kind of research, we couldn’t include some of the concepts you described.
To your last point – great! I’m glad you found it interesting.
I don’t want to go into more detail than this in case someone who hasn’t taken the survey yet is reading this, so we can discuss more if you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. And while I can’t stop anyone from posting their thoughts about the survey here (and I apologize for not making this clear earlier), I do want people to know I am very interested in hearing about them and would prefer that it be sent to my email so that potential participants can take the survey and form their own opinions/thoughts while taking it. Thanks again
Since I can sound snarky or stern at times, I felt the need to add that I absolutely don’t make these critiques or observations to be catty or mean by any means. Research is challenging, and I always notice things after fact that I could’ve done better, or that I would’ve done differently, if I’d known then what I know now, or if I’d proofread something one additional time. We just need to be willing to learn from our experiences, and apply that learning to our next endeavors!
Not at all – healthy criticism is much appreciated! I enjoyed reading your comments and found them very helpful. Like I told Patch, I don’t expect this study (nor any study ever) to be perfect; research builds on research, and I think we know so little about these particular aspects of sexuality and its intersections with identity and personality among furries that it’s difficult to ask really good questions at this point. Even asking questions that turn out to be irrelevant or realizing from the responses that there was something not touched on are useful for pointing research in more fruitful directions. The largely exploratory nature of this work is part of why there are so many open-ended items. Anyway, thanks for the encouraging words and wish you well with your work!
Thank you, and you’re welcome! It’s true that asking questions leads us to answers that allow us to ask better questions, and so on and so on.
If you ever want to bounce around research ideas vis-a-vis our population, or brainstorm new hypotheses, feel free to contact me on, say, Furaffinity, or feel free to contact the International Anthropomorphic Research Project, since the team’s been doing furry and, recently, anime-otaku research at different cons and online for years.
Sure, that all sounds good. I’ll try to remember to do that as I move further along with this study. Right now, I’m bogged down by a lot of other priorities. Thanks for reaching out and again for your helpful feedback. The anime-otaku research your team is conducting sounds very interesting – I’ll look forward to reading more about that!
I’ll second the feedback that Troj gave — speaking as a woman, the questions made me feel as though I’d dropped through a rabbit hole into some very odd realm. I recognize them as some standard survey questions from one or more instruments — possibly modified from transvestite and transgender surveys?
A number of comments in no particular order:
Some questions are difficult to assess — my husband is overweight and I like men who are somewhat heavyset. But that’s different from the Fat Furries (so how do I answer about my interest?) The question of whether I find adults to be sexually interesting turns into a “no” when said adult is the age of my grown children or grandchildren. And online worlds, where an attractive character could be 300 years old or as young as three years old (an adult android, for instance), answering your question becomes still more difficult.
Terminology felt awkward on occasion. Many of us have characters or avatars or toons but not “fursonas.” Fursona is a relatively new term and may not fit those of us who have been in the fandom since the 1980’s. Many of the questions seemed more appropriate for Otherkin and Therians (a subset of Furries) rather than to Furries in general.
Fursuiting questions felt as though they were taken from an instrument on crossdressing. Most of us don’t wear costumes even at conventions, although the media doesn’t seem to be able to report on any furry event unless it includes pictures of everyone wearing fursuits and/or tails and ears. While wearing fur pieces to work or in public might be something that the younger crowd gets into, it’s the kiss of death if you’re older or a professional (or both.)
Some of the Likert-scale type questions did not have a midpoint option (“neutral” or “no more than anyone else I know”.) I answered, but my response does not reflect my reality.
The question about Aspergers/Autism spectrum caught my attention. Some furries are autistic, some have social anxiety problems, and some are depressed — just like the rest of the population — but no more so than other fan groups.
Prominently missing are questions about text-based and MMO-based fantasy experiences of preference for written word and comics.
Troj’s group has been very active in researching the fandom and has published a number of interesting papers.
…and I just noticed that Dr. Gerbasi has also answered. 🙂
Thanks for the helpful feedback, Kenemet! Like I’ve already written elsewhere, I don’t by any means think this study or the questions are perfect. Understandably, questions might be more difficult to answer for some people than for others depending on various factors. It’s incredibly difficult for any one survey to tailor each question and anticipate every way in which a participant might interpret it. One can only go off of previous experience, previous work, asking around, etc. And even that doesn’t run the entire gamut, especially when it comes to the diversity within the furry fandom. In any case, I appreciate all your comments and will consider them going forward.
[adjective species]’s JM has posted a story expressing concerns relating to this research at Flayrah.