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random response techniques

False positives in sensitive survey questions?

Berk Ozler's picture

This is a follow-up to my earlier blog on list experiments for sensitive questions, which, thanks to our readers generated many responses via the comments section and emails: more reading for me – yay! More recently, my colleague Julian Jamison, who is also interested in the topic, sent me three recent papers that I had not been aware of. This short post discusses those papers and serves as a coda to the earlier post…

Random response techniques (RRT) are used to provide more valid data than direct questioning (DQ) when it comes to sensitive questions, such as corruption, sexual behavior, etc. Using some randomization technique, such as dice, they introduce noise into the respondent’s answer, in the process concealing her answer to the sensitive question while still allowing the researcher to estimate an overall prevalence of the behavior in question. These are attractive in principle, but, in practice, as we have been trying to implement them in field work recently, one worries about implementation details and the cognitive burden on the respondents: in real life, it’s not clear that they provide an advantage to warrant use over and above DQ.