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Reducing Socially Desirable Responses in Epidemiologic Surveys: An Extension of the Randomized-response Technique

Moshagen, Mortena,b; Musch, Jochena; Ostapczuk, Martina; Zhao, Zengmeia

doi: 10.1097/EDE.0b013e3181d61dbc
Methods: Brief Report

Background: Even though the validity of self-reports of sensitive behaviors is threatened by social desirability bias, interviews and questionnaires are widely used in epidemiologic surveys on these topics.

Methods: In the randomized-response technique, a randomization device is used to determine whether participants are asked to respond truthfully or whether they are prompted to provide a prespecified response. In this study, the randomized-response technique was extended by using a cheating-detection modification to obtain more valid data. The survey was on the dental hygiene habits of Chinese college students.

Results: Whereas only 35% of men and 10% of women admitted to insufficient dental hygiene when questioned directly, 51% of men and 20% of women attested to this socially undesirable behavior in a randomized-response survey.

Conclusions: Given the considerable discrepancy between the results obtained by direct questioning and by using the randomized-response technique, we propose that this technique be considered for use in epidemiologic studies of sensitive behaviors.

From the aInstitute of Experimental Psychology, University of Duesseldorf, Duesseldorf, Germany; and bPsychology III, University of Mannheim, Mannheim, Germany.

Submitted 13 July 2009; accepted 20 October 2009.

Supported by German Research Foundation (Mu 2674/1-1).

Correspondence: Morten Moshagen, Institute for Experimental Psychology, University of Duesseldorf, Universitaetsstr 1, 40225 Duesseldorf, Germany. E-mail:

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.