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, 79 (4), 333-354

Lies, Damned Lies, and Survey Self-Reports? Identity as a Cause of Measurement Bias

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Lies, Damned Lies, and Survey Self-Reports? Identity as a Cause of Measurement Bias

Philip S Brenner et al. Soc Psychol Q.

Abstract

Explanations of error in survey self-reports have focused on social desirability: that respondents answer questions about normative behavior to appear prosocial to interviewers. However, this paradigm fails to explain why bias occurs even in self-administered modes like mail and web surveys. We offer an alternative explanation rooted in identity theory that focuses on measurement directiveness as a cause of bias. After completing questions about physical exercise on a web survey, respondents completed a text message-based reporting procedure, sending updates on their major activities for five days. Random assignment was then made to one of two conditions: instructions mentioned the focus of the study, physical exercise, or not. Survey responses, text updates, and records from recreation facilities were compared. Direct measures generated bias-overreporting in survey measures and reactivity in the directive text condition-but the nondirective text condition generated unbiased measures. Findings are discussed in terms of identity.

Keywords: identity; measurement; physical exercise; survey research; time diaries.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Example of Study Sequence by Reference Periods
Figure 2
Figure 2
Potential Outcomes from Comparison between Survey Response (S) and Criterion Measures (C)
Figure 3
Figure 3
Comparisons of Mean Number of Days of Exercise and Reported Exercise by Data Collection Methods and Location of Exercise Note: Tests (Wilcoxon signed-rank) use paired data; equivalence tests use TOST signed-rank. The survey and text measures are from sequential reference periods, not the identical reference period. All other comparisons are from matching reference periods. *p<.05. ***p<.001.
Figure 4
Figure 4
Comparison of Exercise Identity Prominence Ratings by Respondent Type Note: Tests use Mann-Whitney-Wilcoxon rank-sum. Equivalence tests use the TOST rank-sum. The survey and text measures are from sequential reference periods, not the identical reference period. All other comparisons are from matching reference periods. *p<.05. **p<.01. ***p<.001.
Figure 5
Figure 5
Predicted Probability of Exercising by Condition and Exercise Identity Importance *p<.05. **p<.01. ***p<.001.

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