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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. 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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    9. 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.
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