The effect of social desirability on reported motivation, substance use severity, and treatment attendance

J Subst Abuse Treat. 2012 Jun;42(4):400-12. doi: 10.1016/j.jsat.2011.09.013. Epub 2011 Nov 25.


Research has not consistently supported an association between stage of change and substance abuse treatment retention. This study examined whether social desirability response bias could help explain why. Participants (N = 200) recruited from an outpatient program completed the University of Rhode Island Change Assessment Scale (URICA), Treatment Readiness Tool (TREAT), Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale, and other measures. Number of treatment groups attended was collected from program records. In bivariate analyses, neither the URICA nor the TREAT was related to attendance. However, higher social desirability was strongly associated with lower URICA (but not TREAT) total scores, and in a multivariate path model, a moderately strong association emerged between higher URICA scores and greater treatment attendance when accounting for social desirability. Higher social desirability was also an independent predictor of greater treatment attendance and was strongly associated with lower Addiction Severity Index alcohol, drug, and psychiatric severity. Results underline a critical problem in measuring motivation and problem severity that has been largely neglected.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Coercion
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Psychological
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Patient Compliance / psychology*
  • Patient Dropouts
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Desirability*
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Substance Abuse Treatment Centers
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / rehabilitation*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult