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Response Style Differences in Cross-National Research

Dispositional and Situational Determinants

Abstract

  • International Management researchers often rely on surveys to collect their data. However, responses to survey questions can be biased by response styles, a respondent’s tendency to provide a systematic response to questions regardless of their content. Response styles vary across countries and individuals, but there is limited systematic research that investigateswhy they vary.

  • Our study investigates middle (MRS) versus extreme response styles (ERS), the tendency to use the middle or extreme categories on rating scales. We examine the impact of culture, different types of scale anchors and the level of knowledge of the topic in question on MRS and ERS.

  • We asked five groups of respondents (Chinese in China, Chinese in Australia, Anglo-Australians in Australia, and two groups of German students in Germany) to indicate on a 10-point scale whether certain employee attitudes or behaviour were more typically Australian (left-hand of the scale) or Chinese (right-hand of the scale). We then asked them how they would rate the performance (low to high on a 10-point scale) of an employee who displayed this attitude or behaviour.

  • Asian respondents showed higher MRS than Western respondents. When scale anchors referred to naturally opposing and mutually exclusive constructs (Australian versus Chinese) respondents showed more ERS than when they referred to level or degree of a construct (low-high performance). Knowledge of cross national differences resulted in higher ERS on behavioural questions but not on performance questions.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In retrospect we should probably have mentioned the country context in which respondents were expected to evaluate performance. However, we argue that in the absence of a country specification, respondents would have been most likely to evaluate performance in the context of their home country. This is likely to be true even for the Chinese students in Australia as researchers have found that values change slowly (see Hofstede,1980/2001 and Olivas-Luján et al.,2004).

  2. 2.

    A reviewer suggested that standard deviation might not be the most appropriate way to measure extreme response styles as—theoretically—a respondent might display a very low standard deviation if he/she picked all of his/her responses at one end of the scale. We therefore reran our analyses reported below with a recoded variable that gave a score of + 2 for 1/10 scores, + 1 for 2/9 scores, 0 for 3/8, scores, −1 for 4/7 scores and −2 for 5/6 scores. Our results were identical to our analyses based on standard deviation, both in terms of relative ranking of the five data collection groups, and in terms of statistical significances between them.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported under Australian Research Council’s Discovery Projects funding scheme (project DP0555977). The views expressed herein are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Australian Research Council. This paper was also partly supported by the Key Project by National Natural Science Foundation of China (Project No.: 70732002).

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Correspondence to Anne-Wil Harzing.

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Harzing, AW., Brown, M., Köster, K. et al. Response Style Differences in Cross-National Research. Manag Int Rev 52, 341–363 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11575-011-0111-2

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Keywords

  • Response styles
  • Survey research
  • Culture
  • China
  • Australia
  • Germany