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

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  • Ivar Krumpal

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Abstract

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

Suggested Citation

  • Ivar Krumpal, 2013. "Determinants of social desirability bias in sensitive surveys: a literature review," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 47(4), pages 2025-2047, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:qualqt:v:47:y:2013:i:4:p:2025-2047
    DOI: 10.1007/s11135-011-9640-9
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. Rolf Becker, 2006. "Selective Response to Questions on Delinquency," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 40(4), pages 483-498, August.
    4. 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.
    5. Coutts Elisabethen & Jann Ben & Krumpal Ivar & Näher Anatol-Fiete, 2011. "Plagiarism in Student Papers: Prevalence Estimates Using Special Techniques for Sensitive Questions," Journal of Economics and Statistics (Jahrbuecher fuer Nationaloekonomie und Statistik), De Gruyter, vol. 231(5-6), pages 749-760, October.
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    8. 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.
    9. 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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    Cited by:

    1. Bernard GAUTHIER & Frédéric LESNÉ, 2017. "Measuring corruption in presence of reticent respondents: Theory and Application," Working Papers P207, FERDI.
    2. repec:spr:qualqt:v:52:y:2018:i:2:d:10.1007_s11135-017-0491-x is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Bernard GAUTHIER & Frédéric LESNÉ, 2017. "Measuring corruption in presence of reticent respondents: Theory and Application," Working Papers P207, FERDI.
    4. Burke, Mary A. & Carman, Katherine G., 2017. "You can be too thin (but not too tall): Social desirability bias in self-reports of weight and height," Economics & Human Biology, Elsevier, vol. 27(PA), pages 198-222.
    5. Martin Korndörfer & Boris Egloff & Stefan C. Schmukle, 2015. "A Large Scale Test of the Effect of Social Class on Prosocial Behavior," Working Papers 1601, Gutenberg School of Management and Economics, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz.
    6. Sundström, Aksel, 2016. "Corruption and Violations of Conservation Rules: A Survey Experiment with Resource Users," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 85(C), pages 73-83.
    7. Korndörfer, Martin & Krumpal, Ivar & Schmukle, Stefan C., 2014. "Measuring and explaining tax evasion: Improving self-reports using the crosswise model," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 18-32.
    8. Martin Korndörfer & Boris Egloff & Stefan C. Schmukle, 2015. "A Large Scale Test of the Effect of Social Class on Prosocial Behavior," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 808, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    9. repec:spr:jbecon:v:87:y:2017:i:9:d:10.1007_s11573-017-0864-6 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Robert Neumann, 2016. "Understanding trustworthiness: using response latencies from CATI surveys to learn about the “crucial” variable in trust research," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 50(1), pages 43-64, January.
    11. Long Zhang & Yulin Deng & Xin Zhang & Enhua Hu, 2016. "Why do Chinese employees build supervisor-subordinate guanxi? A motivational analysis," Asia Pacific Journal of Management, Springer, vol. 33(3), pages 617-648, September.
    12. Melo, Oscar & Engler, Alejandra & Nahuehual, Laura & Cofre, Gabriela & Barrena, José, 2014. "Do Sanitary, Phytosanitary, and Quality-related Standards Affect International Trade? Evidence from Chilean Fruit Exports," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 54(C), pages 350-359.
    13. repec:eee:transa:v:110:y:2018:i:c:p:128-148 is not listed on IDEAS
    14. Chadi, Adrian, 2013. "Third Person Effects in Interview Responses on Life Satisfaction," Schmollers Jahrbuch : Journal of Applied Social Science Studies / Zeitschrift für Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaften, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin, vol. 133(2), pages 323-333.
    15. Antonio Arcos & María del Rueda & Sarjinder Singh, 2015. "A generalized approach to randomised response for quantitative variables," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 49(3), pages 1239-1256, May.
    16. Simon Kühne & Martin Kroh, 2016. "Using Personalized Feedback to Increase Data Quality and Respondents' Motivation in Web Surveys?," SOEPpapers on Multidisciplinary Panel Data Research 855, DIW Berlin, The German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP).
    17. Odermatt, Reto & Stutzer, Alois, 2017. "Subjective Well-Being and Public Policy," IZA Discussion Papers 11102, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    18. Grace P. Kelly & Michael W. Tomlinson & Demi Patsios, 2016. "Comparative Assessment of Methods for Measuring Consensual Poverty: Sort Card Versus CAPI," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 129(2), pages 677-698, November.
    19. repec:eee:socmed:v:191:y:2017:i:c:p:168-175 is not listed on IDEAS
    20. Robert Neumann, 2016. "Understanding trustworthiness: using response latencies from CATI surveys to learn about the “crucial” variable in trust research," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 50(1), pages 43-64, January.

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