Sunday, September 23, 2012

Survey Response to Moral Issues.

By making use of a survey 'magic trick' researchers show how people can be tricked into reversing their opinions on moral issues, even to the point of constructing good arguments to support the opposite of their original positions. More in the video below and here.

The article continues: The researcher have previously reported this effect, called 'choice blindness', in other areas, including taste and smell and aesthetic choice. “I don't feel we have exposed people or fooled them,” says Hall, “Rather this shows something otherwise very difficult to show, [which is] how open and flexible people can actually be.”

In our household survey in Congo we did something similar (design document: here), although we did not have a magic trick and we were interested in something different. In particular we were interested in what we called the respondents' "social desirability bias". An important subject for academics and policymakers that conduct surveys is: In how far does the reporter actually tell the truth? Is the response given really his or her opinion, or did he or she just reply in such a way to give (what the reporter thinks is) "the correct answer" -- the socially desirable reply.

The final evaluation report was published several months ago (here) but we are currently in the process of writing the secondary analysis report, and this social desirability bias is one of the many things we look at. How? We have two statements:
  • A “Many NGOs in the region believe that elections are not appropriate to choose community representatives when it comes to a position of technical responsibility. “
  • B “Many NGOs in the region believe that elections are always the best way to choose community representatives, even for positions of technical responsibility.”
The statements are followed by the question: “Do you agree that elections are the best way to select representatives?” Now 50% of the respondents received first statement A, and then sufficiently later in the survey statement B. For the other 50% of respondents A and B are swapped. As a result, for each individual we receive two observations: their response to “Do you agree that elections are the best way to select representatives?” after statement A, and once after statement B. The social desirability effect is the effect of the prime on the likelihood to agree with that statement. Respondents that give socially desirable answers will say "yes" to the question after statement B, and "no" to exactly the same question after statement A. In addition to this within-person analysis, we also conduct a between-person comparison where we use only whichever statement was asked first for each person (which removes consistency biases), and regress the answer on the prime given.

More soon!

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