Journal paper
TitleSurvey Response in the Presence of Others: An Analysis of Social Normative and Sensitive Questions
Issue No.28
Publish Date2012-10
Author NameSu-Hao Tu
AbstractThe assurance of confidentiality in a dyad interview (private interview) is central to survey interviewing, and it is a premise of such interviewing. In reality, however, the presence of third-parties, a situational variable in the interview, is hard to avoid. Despite the mixed results found in previous studies (Blair, 1979; Hartmann, 1995), some findings were supportive of a significant third-party effect, especially those with a high degree of sensitivity and social norms (Taietz, 1962; Aquilino, 1993; Smith, 1997). Furthermore, scant attention has been paid to the in-depth nature of the presence of others. Three dimensions of the presence of others, respectively the number of others, the types of others and the duration of their presence, were examined in this study under the assumption that they would lead the respondents to underreport or to provide socially desirable answers to sensitive or social normative questions, as seen in comparison with factual questions. Data from a regional survey of metropolitan residents aged 20 or older in Taiwan were used. The results indicated that 50–60% of interviews carried out when third-parties were present, mostly one person. About 40% of third-parties were present all the time. Concerning personal income and sexual experience, in contrast to bias-reduced substantial responses, biased responses are more likely to occur in the interviews characterized by one to three dimensions of third-party presence. In terms of response tendency, significant third-party effects were found among substantial responses and bias-reduced substantial responses to the questions including cohabitation, extra-marital relations, abortion, unmarried women, personal income, and political-party identification. In particular, the third-party effect on biased response to personal income was consistently found significant across three dimensions of the presence of others. The present findings reconfirm the theoretical expectations for the third-party effect on response quality and response tendency to social normative and sensitive questions. They also echo what the previous studies have indicated: the situational effect varies with questions of different nature.
Keywordsresponse quality; response tendency; the third-party effect; the presence of third-parties; interview place
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