Too sophisticated even for highly educated survey respondents? A qualitative assessment of indirect question formats for sensitive questions

  • Julia Jerke University of Zurich
  • David Johann University of Zurich
  • Heiko Rauhut University of Zurich
  • Kathrin Thomas Princeton University
Keywords: Item Count Technique, Crosswise Model, Triangular Model, Cognitive Interviews, Academic Misconduct

Abstract

Misreporting of sensitive characteristics in surveys is a major concern among survey methodologists and social scientists across disciplines. Indirect question formats, such as the Item Count Technique (ICT) and the Randomized Response Techniques (RRT), including the Crosswise Model (CM) and the Triangular Model (TM), have been developed to protect respondents’ privacy by design to elicit more truthful answers. These methods have also been praised to produce more valid estimates than direct questions. However, recent research has revealed a number of problems, such as the occurrence of false negatives, false positives, and dependencies on socioeconomic characteristics, indicating that at least some respondents may still cheat or lie when asked indirectly. This article systematically investigates (1) how well respondents comprehend and (2) to what extent they trust the ICT, CM and TM. We conducted cognitive interviews with academics across disciplines, investigating how respondents perceive, think about and answer questions on academic misconduct using these indirect methods. The results indicate that most respondents comprehend the basic instructions, but many fail to understand the logic and principles of these techniques. Furthermore, the findings suggest that comprehension and honest self-reports are unrelated, thus violating core assumptions about the effectiveness of these techniques.

Author Biographies

Julia Jerke, University of Zurich
Research Associate, Institute of Sociology
David Johann, University of Zurich
Assistant Professor, Institute of Sociology
Heiko Rauhut, University of Zurich
Professor, Institute of Sociology
Kathrin Thomas, Princeton University
Senior Research Specialist, Politics Department
Published
2019-06-20
How to Cite
Jerke, J., Johann, D., Rauhut, H., & Thomas, K. (2019). Too sophisticated even for highly educated survey respondents? A qualitative assessment of indirect question formats for sensitive questions. Survey Research Methods, 13(3), 319-351. https://doi.org/10.18148/srm/2019.v13i3.7453
Section
Articles