Response heaping in interviewer-administered surveys: Is it really a form of satisficing?

Allyson L. Holbrook, Sowmya Anand, Timothy P. Johnson, Young Ik Cho, Sharon Shavitt, Noel Chavez, Saul Weiner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Response heaping (also referred to as rounding or digit preference) occurs when respondents show a preference for rounded numbers (often those divisible by five or 10). Conventional wisdom is that this is the result of taking cognitive shortcuts to make question answering easier, and as such, that it may be a form of survey satisficing. In four studies, we test this conventional wisdom for the first time by exploring whether response heaping occurs for five types of survey questions (behavioral frequency questions, questions that ask about an individual's personal characteristics, questions that ask about an individual's age at the time of an event, questions that ask the respondent to report a percentage, and feeling-thermometer attitude reports) under the conditions thought to foster survey satisficing (e.g., among respondents lower in ability and motivation, when the task of question-answering is difficult, and later in a long questionnaire) and whether heaped responses show effects of survey satisficing (e.g., shorter response latencies, less accuracy, and lowered predictive validity). We also examine the prevalence of response heaping and the extent to which heaping is associated across questions. Heaping above chance levels was found for most types of questions (although the prevalence of heaping varied systematically across different types of questions), but we found little evidence that heaping for most types of questions is more common under conditions thought to foster satisficing. In fact, heaping for some questions may actually reflect more thoughtful processes and result in higher data quality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)591-633
Number of pages43
JournalPublic Opinion Quarterly
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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