Survey response styles across cultures

Timothy P. Johnson, Sharon Shavitt, Allyson L. Holbrook

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Introduction Survey reports are susceptible to multiple forms of measurement error (Sudman & Bradburn, 1974; Tourangeau, Rips, & Rasinski, 2000). In this chapter, we consider some of the potential processes through which culture may be implicated in measurement error. In particular, we focus on cultural variability in several common survey response styles, including socially desirable responding (SDR), acquiescent response style (ARS), and extreme response style (ERS). Awareness of response styles is particularly important in the conduct of cross-cultural research. Systematic variance in response style behaviors across racial, ethnic, or national groups may be mistakenly interpreted as cultural differences (or similarities) in the substantive measures being compared (Johnson & van de Vijver, 2003; Keillor, Owens, & Pettijohn, 2001; Middleton & Jones, 2000; Si & Cullen, 1998). Response styles also may suppress or inflate associations among variables (Wells, 1961) differentially across cultural groups. Thus, the potential for cultural variability in survey reporting has direct implications for many academic disciplines that rely on survey research for measurement purposes, as well as for applied researchers working across many substantive fields. This review integrates evidence and experiences from many of these disciplines regarding three of the most common forms of response style that vary across cultures. Three types of evidence are considered: (a) evidence of differences across racial and ethnic groups within nations, (b) evidence of differences across countries, and (c) evidence of associations between direct measures of cultural values and each response style. We also consider the potential cultural mechanisms underlying these processes. Methodological issues relevant to the measurement of response styles and proposed methods to compensate for cultural heterogeneity in these reporting processes are reviewed as well. Culture and socially desirable responding A widely studied topic in research methodology, SDR continues to be a serious concern in survey measurement because of its potential to introduce response bias (Johnson & van de Vijver, 2003; Paulhus, 1991; Tourangeau & Yan, 2007). SDR is the systematic tendency to give answers that make the respondent look good (Paulhus, 1991). Understanding how social desirability is viewed and pursued in different cultural contexts and groups is key to the validity of cross-cultural research efforts and many other research efforts involving self-reports. In general, research findings indicate that compared with individualists, collectivists have a greater tendency to give responses that make the self look good. This finding has emerged in multiple studies and has been shown across nations, across racial and ethnic groups within nations, and across individual-level cultural variables.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCross-Cultural Research Methods in Psychology
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages47
ISBN (Electronic)9780511779381
ISBN (Print)9780521765251
StatePublished - Jan 1 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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