It was shown that student satisfaction ratings are influenced by context in ways that have important theoretical and practical implications. Using questions from the UK's National Student Survey, the study examined whether and how students' expressed satisfaction with issues such as feedback promptness and instructor enthusiasm depends on the context of comparison (such as possibly inaccurate beliefs about the feedback promptness or enthusiasm experienced at other universities) that is evoked. Experiment 1 found strong effects of experimentally provided comparison context-for example, satisfaction with a given feedback time depended on the time's relative position within a context. Experiment 2 used a novel distribution-elicitation methodology to determine the prior beliefs of individual students about what happens in universities other than their own. It found that these beliefs vary widely and that students' satisfaction was predicted by how they believed their experience ranked within the distribution of others' experiences. A third study found that relative judgement principles also predicted students' intention to complain. An extended model was developed to show that purely rank-based principles of judgement can account for findings previously attributed to range effects. It was concluded that satisfaction ratings and quality of provision are different quantities, particularly when the implicit context of comparison includes beliefs about provision at other universities. Quality and satisfaction should be assessed separately, with objective measures (such as actual times to feedback), rather than subjective ratings (such as satisfaction with feedback promptness), being used to measure quality wherever practicable. © 2014 The Authors. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Keywords: NSS; context-dependence; rank-based judgement; student satisfaction.