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Who should supervise students during self-report interviews? A controlled experiment on response behavior in online questionnaires



This study tests whether juveniles’ responses on sensitive topics such as self-reported delinquency, victimization, and substance use are comparable when teachers versus external persons supervise students while filling out online questionnaires.


Eighty classes with 1,197 students (9th grade) in eastern Switzerland were randomly assigned (at the class level) to supervision either by their teacher or by an external person (i.e., researcher). Students filled out online questionnaires about self-reported delinquency, victimization, and substance use in the classroom while being supervised either by their teacher or by an external person. Prevalence rates were compared using Chi-square tests.


Only three out of 57 comparisons show significantly different outcomes. Whenever differences are found, and contrary to our expectation, sensitive experiences are more often admitted when students are supervised by their teacher. Effect sizes do not exceed 0.6, and are thus all below the limit of a small effect.


Using online questionnaires with teachers as supervisors may not affect validity while making surveys less expensive and intrusive.

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This survey was mandated by the Government of the Canton of St. Gallen, Switzerland (Department of Security & Justice and Department of Education) and carried out by the Institute of Criminology, University of Zurich, Switzerland.

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Correspondence to Simone Walser.

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Walser, S., Killias, M. Who should supervise students during self-report interviews? A controlled experiment on response behavior in online questionnaires. J Exp Criminol 8, 17–28 (2012).

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  • Internet surveys
  • Interview methods
  • Research methods
  • School-based surveys
  • Self-reported juvenile delinquency