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Mischievous Responders and Sexual Minority Youth Survey Data: A Brief History, Recent Methodological Advances, and Implications for Research and Practice

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  1. Because our Commentary discusses mischievous responders and ways to assess their potential effects on LGBQ–heterosexual disparity estimates, we briefly mention here how these papers dealt with mischievous responders. Holway et al. (2017) used AddHealth data but did not explicitly mention concerns about mischievous responders, but some of their data exclusion criteria (e.g., removing respondents who reported having sex before age 10 or having more than 50 partners) may be partially removing mischievous responders, though such exclusion criteria may alter actual substantive outcomes of interest as well. Phillips et al. (2019) used YRBS data and reference mischievous responders in their limitations sections, but they did not mention any explicit attempt to screen their data. Poteat et al. (2019) and Talley et al. (2019) used the Dane County Youth Assessment and YRBS, respectively, but did not mention mischievous responders or any attempt to screen their data.

  2. Gender identity was not assessed in AddHealth (at least, not in the way it would be assessed in contemporary studies) and was not in the public conscienceness as much then (in 1994–1996, when these first two waves of data were collected) as it is in 2020. Thus, the possibility exists that some of these youth were transgender/genderqueer/non-binary/non-conforming and perhaps felt forced to report their sex assigned at birth when asked during the in-person follow-up. However, given that these female-to-male response patterns often coincided with misreporting of adoption status, nativity, and amputee/disability status, many of these cases are likely mischievous responders. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the transgender + possibility was not raised by Fan et al. (2006), and to date very few studies have assessed the possibility of mischievous responders as relates to gender identity (for exceptions, see Robinson & Espelage, 2011; Robinson-Cimpian, 2014). This is indeed an important area of research, as Robinson-Cimpian’s (2014) results suggest that transgender–cisgender disparities may be far more biased than SMY-heterosexual disparities; more work is needed on this topic.

  3. The current Commentary is a collaborative effort by Cimpian and Timmer, but occasionally we insert references to the work or experiences of one of the authors.

  4. As Cimpian (2017) makes clear, mischievous responding is only one source of potential bias. Some new work by Salway, Plöderl, Liu, and Gustafson (2019) incorporates multiple forms of bias (including mischievous responding) into calculations of lifetime suicide attempts by sexual orientation. For example, Salway, Plöderl, Liu, and Gustafson’s (2019) model incorporates an assumed mischievousness effect based on the literature, which diminishes the LGB–heterosexual suicide attempt disparity, but then also assumes that a “concealer effect” (i.e., not disclosing stigmatized or sensitive personal information) acts in the opposite direction, increasing the disparity.


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Correspondence to Joseph R. Cimpian.

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Cimpian, J.R., Timmer, J.D. Mischievous Responders and Sexual Minority Youth Survey Data: A Brief History, Recent Methodological Advances, and Implications for Research and Practice. Arch Sex Behav 49, 1097–1102 (2020).

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