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Determinants of social desirability bias in sensitive surveys: a literature review

  • Ivar Krumpal


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    Survey questions asking about taboo topics such as sexual activities, illegal behaviour such as social fraud, or unsocial attitudes such as racism, often generate inaccurate survey estimates which are distorted by social desirability bias. Due to self-presentation concerns, survey respondents underreport socially undesirable activities and overreport socially desirable ones. This article reviews theoretical explanations of socially motivated misreporting in sensitive surveys and provides an overview of the empirical evidence on the effectiveness of specific survey methods designed to encourage the respondents to answer more honestly. Besides psychological aspects, like a stable need for social approval and the preference for not getting involved into embarrassing social interactions, aspects of the survey design, the interviewer’s characteristics and the survey situation determine the occurrence and the degree of social desirability bias. The review shows that survey designers could generate more valid data by selecting appropriate data collection strategies that reduce respondents’ discomfort when answering to a sensitive question. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2013

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    Article provided by Springer in its journal Quality & Quantity.

    Volume (Year): 47 (2013)
    Issue (Month): 4 (June)
    Pages: 2025-2047

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    Handle: RePEc:spr:qualqt:v:47:y:2013:i:4:p:2025-2047
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    1. Johannes Landsheer & Peter Van Der Heijden & Ger Van Gils, 1999. "Trust and Understanding, Two Psychological Aspects of Randomized Response," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 33(1), pages 1-12, February.
    2. Elisabeth Coutts & Ben Jann, 2008. "Sensitive Questions in Online Surveys: Experimental Results for the Randomized Response Technique (RRT) and the Unmatched Count Technique (UCT)," ETH Zurich Sociology Working Papers 3, ETH Zurich, Chair of Sociology.
    3. Elisabeth Coutts & Ben Jann, 2011. "Sensitive Questions in Online Surveys: Experimental Results for the Randomized Response Technique (RRT) and the Unmatched Count Technique (UCT)," Sociological Methods & Research, , vol. 40(1), pages 169-193, February.
    4. Rolf Becker, 2006. "Selective Response to Questions on Delinquency," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 40(4), pages 483-498, 08.
    5. Elisabeth Coutts† & Ben Jann & Ivar Krumpal & Anatol-Fiete Naeher, 2011. "Plagiarism in Student Papers: Prevalence Estimates Using Special Techniques for Sensitive Questions," Journal of Economics and Statistics (Jahrbuecher fuer Nationaloekonomie und Statistik), Justus-Liebig University Giessen, Department of Statistics and Economics, vol. 231(5-6), pages 749-760, November.
    6. Steven D. Levitt & John A. List, 2007. "What Do Laboratory Experiments Measuring Social Preferences Reveal About the Real World?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(2), pages 153-174, Spring.
    7. Edith de Leeuw, 2001. "Reducing Missing Data in Surveys: An Overview of Methods," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 35(2), pages 147-160, May.
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