Social desirability is the same in offline, online, and paper surveys: A meta-analysis

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The aim of this meta-analysis was to compare social desirability scores between paper and computer surveys. Subgroup analyses were conducted with Internet connectivity, level of anonymity, individual or group test setting, possibility of skipping items, possibility of backtracking previous items, inclusion of questions of sensitive nature, and social desirability scale type as moderators. Subgroup analyses were also conducted for study characteristics, namely the randomisation of participants, sample type (students vs. other), and study design (between- vs. within-subjects). Social desirability scores between the two administration modes were compared for 51 studies that included 62 independent samples and 16,700 unique participants. The overall effect of administration mode was close to zero (Cohen’s d = 0.00 for fixed-effect and d = −0.01 for random-effects meta-analysis). The majority of the effect sizes in the subgroup analyses were not significantly different from zero either. The effect sizes were close to zero for both Internet and offline surveys. In conclusion, the totality of evidence indicates that there is no difference in social desirability between paper-and-pencil surveys and computer surveys. Publication year and sample size were positively correlated (ρ = .64), which suggests that certain of the large effects that have been found in the past may have been due to sampling error.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)487-495
JournalComputers in Human Behavior
Issue numberJuly
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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  • Social desirability
  • Meta-analysis
  • Self-disclosure
  • Decline effect


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