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Sensitive Questions in Online Surveys: Experimental Results for the Randomized Response Technique (RRT) and the Unmatched Count Technique (UCT)

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  • Elisabeth Coutts

    ()

  • Ben Jann

    ()

Abstract

Gaining valid answers to so-called sensitive questions is an age-old problem in survey research. Various techniques have been developed to guarantee anonymity and minimize the respondent's feelings of jeopardy. Two such techniques are the randomized response technique (RRT) and the unmatched count technique (UCT). In this study we evaluate the effectiveness of different implementations of the RRT (using a forced-response design) in a computer-assisted setting and also compare the use of the RRT to that of the UCT. The techniques are evaluated according to various quality criteria, such as the prevalence estimates they provide, the ease of their use, and respondent trust in the techniques. Our results indicate that the RRTs are problematic with respect to several domains, such as the limited trust they inspire and non-response, and that the RRT estimates are unreliable due to a strong false "no" bias, especially for the more sensitive questions. The UCT, however, performed well compared to the RRTs on all the evaluated measures. The UCT estimates also had more face validity than the RRT estimates. We conclude that the UCT is a promising alternative to RRT in self-administered surveys and that future research should be directed towards evaluating and improving the technique.

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:ets:wpaper:3
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    File URL: http://repec.ethz.ch/ets/papers/coutts_jann_online_rrt.pdf
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Peter Preisendörfer, 2008. "Heikle Fragen in mündlichen Interviews: Ergebnisse einer Methodenstudie im studentischen Milieu (Sensitive Questions in Face-to-Face Interviews: Findings of a Methodological Study with University Stud," ETH Zurich Sociology Working Papers 6, ETH Zurich, Chair of Sociology.
    2. Friesenbichler, Klaus S. & Selenko, Eva & Clarke, George R.G., 2015. "How much of a nuisance is greasing the palms? A study on job dedication and attitudes towards corruption reports under answer bias control," MPRA Paper 67331, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    3. 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.
    4. repec:cup:apsrev:v:108:y:2014:i:01:p:144-168_00 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Katherine B. Coffman & Lucas C. Coffman & Keith M. Marzilli Ericson, 2013. "The Size of the LGBT Population and the Magnitude of Anti-Gay Sentiment are Substantially Underestimated," NBER Working Papers 19508, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Gueorguiev, Dimitar & Malesky, Edmund, 2012. "Foreign investment and bribery: A firm-level analysis of corruption in Vietnam," Journal of Asian Economics, Elsevier, vol. 23(2), pages 111-129.
    7. Marc Höglinger & Ben Jann & Andreas Diekmann, 2014. "Online Survey on "Exams and Written Papers". Documentation," University of Bern Social Sciences Working Papers 8, University of Bern, Department of Social Sciences, revised 06 Oct 2014.
    8. Anatol-Fiete Näher & Ivar Krumpal, 2012. "Asking sensitive questions: the impact of forgiving wording and question context on social desirability bias," Quality & Quantity: International Journal of Methodology, Springer, vol. 46(5), pages 1601-1616, August.
    9. Malesky, Edmund J. & Nguyen, Cuong Viet & Tran, Anh, 2014. "The Impact of Recentralization on Public Services: A Difference-in-Differences Analysis of the Abolition of Elected Councils in Vietnam," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 108(01), pages 144-168, February.
    10. La Forgia, Gerard & Raha, Shomikho & Shaik, Shabbeer & Maheshwari, Sunil Kumar & Ali, Rabia, 2014. "Parallel systems and human resource management in India's public health services : a view from the front lines," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6953, The World Bank.
    11. Klaus Friesenbichler & George Clarke & Michael Wong, 2014. "Price competition and market transparency: evidence from a random response technique," Empirica, Springer;Austrian Institute for Economic Research;Austrian Economic Association, vol. 41(1), pages 5-21, February.
    12. 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.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    sensitive questions; online survey; randomized response technique; unmatched count technique; item count technique; methodological experiment;

    JEL classification:

    • C42 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods: Special Topics - - - Survey Methods
    • C81 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Data Collection and Data Estimation Methodology; Computer Programs - - - Methodology for Collecting, Estimating, and Organizing Microeconomic Data; Data Access

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