Journal of Official Statistics, Vol.23, No.4, 2007. pp. 493–514

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The Interdependence of Determinants for the Strength and Direction of Social Desirability Bias in Racial Attitude Surveys

Empirical evidence suggests that respondents’ approval motive, their desirability beliefs, and response privacy determine their susceptibility to social desirability (SD) bias. Previous research has analyzed these factors separately and has not taken their interdependence into account. This article examines the prediction made by rational-choice theory that a strong approval motive, clear differences in the perceived desirability of response options, and a lack of privacy are all necessary but not sufficient conditions for SD-bias. Consistent with these predictions, the empirical results of our first study have shown that a three-way interaction between these factors predicts the respondents’ answers about their attitudes toward foreigners. In a second, unrelated study, we tested the critical question whether desirability beliefs predict the strength and direction of privacy effects also when the subjects’ desirability concerns are not activated due to asking the same respondents about how socially desirable they regard different response options. We confirmed the results from our first study.

Mode of administration; need for social approval; racial attitudes; rational-choice theory; response bias; trait desirability.

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