Why are you calling me? How survey introductions change response patterns

  • Dylan Smith
  • Schwarz N
  • Roberts TR
  • Peter Ubel

 PURPOSE: Research on survey methodology has demonstrated that seemingly innocuous aspects of a survey's design, such as the order of questions, can produce biased results. The current investigation extends this work by testing whether standard survey introductions alter the observed associations between variables. METHODS: In two experimental studies, we invited Parkinson's disease (PD) patients to participate in a telephone survey of (a) Parkinson's patients, conducted by a regional medical center, or (b) the general population, conducted by a regional university. The survey in Study 1 (n = 156) first assessed life-satisfaction, and subsequently health satisfaction. In Study 2 (n = 99), we reversed the order of the two questions, asking the health questions first. RESULTS: When the introduction focused on Parkinson's disease, we observed an increased correlation between life-satisfaction and a later question about health satisfaction (r = 0.34 vs. 0.63 after general population versus Parkinson's introduction, respectively; Study 1). In Study 2, asking the health questions first resulted in high correlations regardless of the introduction; in addition, judgments of life-satisfaction were lower after the Parkinson's-focused introduction. CONCLUSIONS: When participants were informed prior to the survey that its purpose was to examine well-being in PD, health satisfaction was a much more important component of life-satisfaction, accounting for three times as much variation. We hypothesize that the survey introduction primed participants' health status, resulting in an artificially large correlation with life-satisfaction.

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