Questions on honest responding

  • Vaka VésteinsdóttirEmail author
  • Adam Joinson
  • Ulf-Dietrich Reips
  • Hilda Bjork Danielsdottir
  • Elin Astros Thorarinsdottir
  • Fanney Thorsdottir


This article presents a new method for reducing socially desirable responding in Internet self-reports of desirable and undesirable behavior. The method is based on moving the request for honest responding, often included in the introduction to surveys, to the questioning phase of the survey. Over a quarter of Internet survey participants do not read survey instructions, and therefore, instead of asking respondents to answer honestly, they were asked whether they responded honestly. Posing the honesty message in the form of questions on honest responding draws attention to the message, increases the processing of it, and puts subsequent questions in context with the questions on honest responding. In three studies (nStudy I = 475, nStudy II = 1,015, nStudy III = 899), we tested whether presenting the questions on honest responding before questions on desirable and undesirable behavior could increase the honesty of responses, under the assumption that less attribution of desirable behavior and/or admitting to more undesirable behavior could be taken to indicate more honest responses. In all studies the participants who were presented with the questions on honest responding before questions on the target behavior produced, on average, significantly less socially desirable responses, though the effect sizes were small in all cases (Cohen’s d ranging between 0.02 and 0.28 for single items, and from 0.17 to 0.34 for sum scores). The overall findings and the possible mechanisms behind the influence of the questions concerning honest responding on subsequent questions are discussed, and suggestions are made for future research.


Questions on honest responding Socially desirable responding Sensitive questions Self-reports Internet surveys 


Author note

This work was part funded by the Eimskip Fund of the University of Iceland (Háskólasjóður Eimskipafélags Íslands). The funding source had no role in study design; in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of the data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the article for publication. The authors acknowledge networking support from the COST Action IS1004, WEBDATANET:


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Vaka Vésteinsdóttir
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Adam Joinson
    • 3
  • Ulf-Dietrich Reips
    • 2
  • Hilda Bjork Danielsdottir
    • 1
  • Elin Astros Thorarinsdottir
    • 1
  • Fanney Thorsdottir
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of IcelandReykjavikIceland
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of KonstanzKonstanzGermany
  3. 3.School of ManagementUniversity of BathBathUK

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