Methodological considerations regarding response bias effect in substance use research: is correlation between the measured variables sufficient?

Subst Abuse Treat Prev Policy. 2011 Jan 18:6:1. doi: 10.1186/1747-597X-6-1.


Efforts for drug free sport include developing a better understanding of the behavioural determinants that underline doping with an increased interest in developing anti-doping prevention and intervention programmes. Empirical testing of both is dominated by self-report questionnaires, which is the most widely used method in psychological assessments and sociology polls. Disturbingly, the potential distorting effect of socially desirable responding (SD) is seldom considered in doping research, or dismissed based on weak correlation between some SD measure and the variables of interest. The aim of this report is to draw attention to i) the potential distorting effect of SD and ii) the limitation of using correlation analysis between a SD measure and the individual measures. Models of doping opinion as a potentially contentious issue was tested using structural equation modeling technique (SEM) with and without the SD variable, on a dataset of 278 athletes, assessing the SD effect both at the i) indicator and ii) construct levels, as well as iii) testing SD as an independent variable affecting expressed doping opinion. Participants were categorised by their SD score into high- and low SD groups. Based on low correlation coefficients (<|0.22|) observed in the overall sample, SD effect on the indicator variables could be disregarded. Regression weights between predictors and the outcome variable varied between groups with high and low SD but despite the practically non-existing relationship between SD and predictors (<|0.11|) in the low SD group, both groups showed improved model fit with SD, independently. The results of this study clearly demonstrate the presence of SD effect and the inadequacy of the commonly used pairwise correlation to assess social desirability at model level. In the absence of direct observation of the target behaviour (i.e. doping use), evaluation of the effectiveness of future anti-doping campaign, along with empirical testing of refined doping behavioural models, will likely to continue to rely on self-reported information. Over and above controlling the effect of socially desirable responding in research that makes inferences based on self-reported information on social cognitive and behavioural measures, it is recommended that SD effect is appropriately assessed during data analysis.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Health
  • Bias
  • Biomedical Research / methods
  • Biomedical Research / standards*
  • Doping in Sports / psychology*
  • Doping in Sports / statistics & numerical data
  • Epidemiologic Research Design
  • Humans
  • Self Disclosure*
  • Self Report*
  • Social Desirability