Comparison of 3 data collection methods for gathering sensitive and less sensitive information

Ambul Pediatr. Jul-Aug 2008;8(4):255-60. doi: 10.1016/j.ambp.2008.03.033. Epub 2008 Jun 9.


Objective: When gathering sensitive information about personal experiences such as child abuse, drug and alcohol use, and intimate partner violence (IPV), it is especially important for both research and clinical purposes to use optimal methods to limit socially desirable responses. The purpose of this paper is to determine which of the following 3 methods is optimal for gathering data: 1) face-to-face interviews, 2) self-administered paper and pencil questionnaires, or 3) audio computer-assisted self-interviews (ACASI).

Methods: The sample consisted of 514 parents bringing their preschoolers (0-5 years) to a pediatric primary care clinic for a checkup. The parent screening questionnaire (PSQ) addressing psychosocial problems was completed by participants themselves. Participants completed the PSQ in 1 of 3 ways: paper and pencil, face-to-face interview, or directly onto a computer (ACASI).

Results: In general, ACASI yielded the highest rates for sensitive problems such as social isolation and parental stress, with face-to-face interviews occupying an intermediate position. The differences between ACASI and self-administered paper and pencil questionnaires were significant for many items. The differences between ACASI and face-to-face interviews, however, were modest. There were no significant group differences among the 3 methods in the prevalence rates of the neutral, less sensitive items.

Conclusion: ACASI resulted in greater disclosure of sensitive information than did a paper and pencil approach. No significant differences were observed between the computer-assisted interview and the face-to-face interview, both done in a research setting. The 3 methods appeared similar when gathering less sensitive data.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Confidentiality
  • Data Collection / methods*
  • Diagnosis, Computer-Assisted
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Parents
  • Spouse Abuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*