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Detecting Insufficient Effort Responding with an Infrequency Scale: Evaluating Validity and Participant Reactions



Insufficient effort responding (IER), which occurs due to a lack of motivation to comply with survey instructions and to correctly interpret item content, represents a serious problem for researchers and practitioners who employ survey methodology (Huang et al. 2012). Extending prior research, we examine the validity of the infrequency approach to detecting IER and assess participant reactions to such an approach.


Two online surveys (Studies 1 and 2) completed by employed undergraduates were utilized to assess the validity of the infrequency approach. An on-line survey of paid participants (Study 3) and a paper-and-pencil survey in an organization (Study 4) were conducted to evaluate participant reactions, using random assignment into survey conditions that either did or did not contain infrequency items.


Studies 1 and 2 provided evidence for the reliability, unidimensionality, and criterion-related validity of the infrequency scales. Study 3 and Study 4 showed that surveys that contained infrequency items did not lead to more negative reactions than did surveys that did not contain such items.


The current findings provide evidence of the effectiveness and feasibility of the infrequency approach for detecting IER, supporting its application in low-stakes organizational survey contexts.


The current studies provide a more in-depth examination of the infrequency approach to IER detection than had been done in prior research. In particular, the evaluation of participant reactions to infrequency scales represents a novel contribution to the IER literature.

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  1. We thank three anonymous reviewers and Action Editor Scott Tonidandel for noting this potential concern that led us to conduct Study 3 and Study 4.

  2. In a pilot study based on 59 part-time and full time working undergraduates, the eight-item infrequency scale was not significantly correlated with Paulhus’s (Paulhus 1991) impression management scale (r = − 0.20, p = ns) or self-deception scale (r = − 0.20, p = ns). If the infrequency items assessed faking (cf. Pannone 1984; Paulhus et al. 2003), the scale should be positively related to impression management and self-deception. Thus, these nonsignificant negative correlations indicate that the infrequency items measured response behavior distinct from impression management and self-deception. As suggested by an anonymous reviewer, we further examined each infrequency item’s correlations with impression management and self-deception. Five items (items #1, 2, 3, 5, and 7) had negative correlations (rs ranging from −0.23 to −0.36, ps < 0.10), while two items (items #4 and #8) had near zero correlations (rs ranging from −0.05 to 0.06, ps = ns) with the two social desirability measures. Item #6 stood out for having weak positive associations with both self-deception and impression management (rs = 0.21 and 0.11, ps = ns). Overall, however, none of the infrequency IER items was saturated with social desirability, thus alleviating the concern that these items measured socially desirable responding.

  3. We thank Scott Tonidandel for bringing these issues to our attention.

  4. We conjecture that the infrequency items might have grabbed the attention of some participants. That is, the presence of the infrequency items might have led some participants to find the items funny and thus had a piqued interest in the questionnaire. This is consistent with presence of infrequency items resulted in a marginal increase in enjoyment. As a result, attentive participants might have become even more attentive after reading the infrequency items, and subsequently tended to think the data quality being higher.


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We would like to thank Neal Schmitt, Fred Oswald, and Adam Meade for comments on earlier drafts of this paper, and Jessica Keeney and Paul Curran for suggestions during the early stages of this research. We also thank Travis Walker for assisting with data collection.

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Correspondence to Jason L. Huang.

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Huang, J.L., Bowling, N.A., Liu, M. et al. Detecting Insufficient Effort Responding with an Infrequency Scale: Evaluating Validity and Participant Reactions. J Bus Psychol 30, 299–311 (2015).

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  • Insufficient effort responding
  • Careless responding
  • Random responding
  • Inconsistent responding
  • Data screening
  • Online surveys