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Social Desirability Bias in Child-Report Social Well-Being: Evaluation of the Children’s Social Desirability Short Scale Using Item Response Theory and Examination of Its Impact on Self-Report Family and Peer Relationships

Abstract

Research on child well-being largely relies on children’s self-report data, potentially biased by social desirability (SD). In this study, we aim to (1) evaluate the psychometric properties of the Children’s Social Desirability Short (CSD-S) scale, and (2) examine if and, if so, how SD systematically biases child-report family and peer relationships as indicators of social well-being. In spring 2015, 843 elementary school children (aged 10) and their parents were surveyed on well-being indicators and SD measured with the 14-items Children’s Social Desirability Short (CSD-S) scale. The CSD-S was evaluated using nonparametric Item Response Theory (NIRT). Linear mixed-effects regression models based on multiple imputations of multilevel missing data were run to examine the role of SD in self-report social well-being in addition to socio-demographic characteristics, accounting for the nested structure of the data (students were sampled at class level). Applying NIRT, we identified a 13-items subset of the CSD-S with double monotonicity. Cronbach’s alpha was .82. When controlling for children’s socio-demographic characteristics, SD significantly positively predicted subjective evaluations of family relationships (B = 0.04, t(49272) = 7.45, p < .001), whereas it significantly negatively predicted self-report deviant behavior performed towards peers (B = −0.03, t(39927) = −14.40, p < .001) and experienced from peers (B= −.0.01, t(39028) = −2.86, p = .002). SD bias explained additional 22 percent of variance in self-report deviant behavior performed towards peers. Since SD impacts the validity of self-report well-being, child indicators research should include age-specific SD scales, e.g., the CSD-S, and control for the bias in statistical analyses.

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Acknowledgements

We wish to thank the regional education administration of Ticino and the participating schools for their collaboration during data collection. We also thank Dr. A.L. Dima for her constructive feedback on Item Response Theory analysis.

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Correspondence to Anne-Linda Camerini.

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Camerini, AL., Schulz, P.J. Social Desirability Bias in Child-Report Social Well-Being: Evaluation of the Children’s Social Desirability Short Scale Using Item Response Theory and Examination of Its Impact on Self-Report Family and Peer Relationships. Child Ind Res 11, 1159–1174 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12187-017-9472-9

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Keywords

  • Social desirability bias; social well-being
  • Item response theory
  • Italian children’s social desirability short scale