More Is Not Always Better: An Experimental Individual-Level Validation of the Randomized Response Technique and the Crosswise Model
Social desirability and the fear of sanctions can deter survey respondents from responding truthfully to sensitive questions. Self-reports on norm breaking behavior such as shoplifting, non-voting, or tax evasion may therefore be subject to considerable misreporting. To mitigate such misreporting, various indirect techniques for asking sensitive questions, such as the randomized response technique (RRT), have been proposed in the literature. In our study, we evaluate the viability of several variants of the RRT, including the recently proposed crosswise-model RRT, by comparing respondents’ self-reports on cheating in dice games to actual cheating behavior, thereby distinguishing between false negatives (underreporting) and false positives (overreporting). The study has been implemented as an online survey on Amazon Mechanical Turk (N = 6,505). Our results indicate that the forced-response RRT and the unrelated-question RRT, as implemented in our survey, fail to reduce the level of misreporting compared to conventional direct questioning. For the crosswise-model RRT, we do observe a reduction of false negatives (that is, an increase in the proportion of cheaters who admit having cheated). At the same time, however, there is an increase in false positives (that is, an increase in non-cheaters who falsely admit having cheated). Overall, our findings suggest that none of the implemented sensitive questions techniques substantially outperforms direct questioning. Furthermore, our study demonstrates the importance of distinguishing false negatives and false positives when evaluating the validity of sensitive question techniques.
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