Texting is a surprisingly good way to get candid responses to sensitive questions, according to a new study.
“The preliminary results of our study suggest that people are more likely to disclose sensitive information via text messages than in voice interviews,” said Fred Conrad, Ph.D., a cognitive psychologist and director of the program in survey methodology at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research (ISR).
“This is sort of surprising, since many people thought that texting would decrease the likelihood of disclosing sensitive information because it creates a persistent, visual record of questions and answers that others might see on your phone and in the cloud.”
Researchers also found that when texting, people were less likely to engage in “satisficing” — a survey industry term referring to the common practice of giving good enough, easy answers, like rounding to multiples of 10 in numerical responses. One reason people give more precise answers is that there’s not that time pressure they may feel during a phone conversation, the researcher suggested. “As a result, respondents are able to take longer to arrive at more accurate answers,” he said.
For the study, the researchers recruited about 600 iPhone users on Craigslist, through Google Ads, and from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, offering them iTunes Store incentives to participate in the study. Their goals were to see whether responses to the same questions differed depending on several variables, such as whether the questions were asked via text or voice, whether a human or a computer asked the questions, and whether the environment, including the presence of other people and the likelihood of multitasking, affected the answers.
Among the questions that respondents answered more honestly via text than speech: In a typical week, about how often do you exercise? During the past 30 days, on how many days did you have five or more drinks on the same occasion?
Among the questions answered more precisely via text, providing fewer rounded numerical responses, were: During the last month, how many movies did you watch in any medium? How many songs do you currently have on your iPhone?
The researchers also found that people are more likely to provide thoughtful and honest responses via text messages even when they’re in busy, distracting environments.
“This is the case even though people are more likely to be multitasking — shopping or walking, for example — when they’re answering questions by text than when they’re being interviewed by voice,” Conrad said.
Source: University of Michigan