"Internet Behaviour and the Design of Virtual Methods" - Adam N. Joinson
”Clearly, if people behave differently online compared to offline, this may well have implications for social scientists who use the Internet as a research tool. Indeed, there is considerable evidence that within a research setting, people also disclose more about themselves online compared to in offline equivalents, and that much of that disclosure is more candid.
For instance, socially desirable responding is the tendency for people to present themselves in a positive light in a research setting. Compared to a pencil and paper survey, answers to an electronic survey are less socially desirable and lead to the disclosure of more information about the self (Kiesler and Sproull 1986; weisband and Kiesler 1986; Joinson 1999; Frick Bächtiger and Reips 2001). In a meta-analysis of self-disclosure on computer forms, Weisband and Keisler foudn that the effect of using a computer on self-disclosure is highest when collecting sensitive information. (…) Similarly, automated or computerized telephone interviews, compared to other forms of telephone interviewing, lead to higher levels of reporting of sensitive information (see Lau, Tsui and Wang 2003; Tourangeau 2004). However, although the weight of evidence suggests high self-disclosure and low social desirability in computerized research - on the WWW, interviews and telephone - there have also been occasions when no differences are found between offline and online research methods (Fox and Schwartz 2002; Birnbaum 2004; Buchanan and Joinson 2004). It is unclear why an effect might be found in some studies and not in others, and there are often a number of confounding variables - for instances, between anonymity and being in the presence of others, timing, identifiability and sample motivation.” (ANJ, p.25)
Aspects of design virtual methods: impact on responses and links to general Internet behaviour.
- Role of privacy and anonymity (ANJ, pp.26-27)
“Most researchers are ethically bound and methodologically motivated to maintain participant confidentiality and anonymity during online research. Institutional Research Boards now tend to require that participants’ confidentiality is carefully protected. In many cases, this might require a recognition that true anonymity is not strictly possible (…), but that confidentiality is assured. Detailed consent forms can be used to assuage participant’ privacy concerns in most cases, although in some cases it might be necessary to take further steps." (ANJ, p.26)
- Accidental and intentional use of social rules and norms (ANJ, pp.27-29)
“(…) within an interaction, one person’s intimacies tend to be reciprocated in terms of level and typ by the communication partner." (ANJ, p.27)
- Diffusion of responsibility
“Theoretically at least (…), one would expect that Internet-based research should, paradoxically, gain a greater number of more committed responses by sending out individual requests for assistance in research, rather than mass mailings." (ANJ, p.28)
- Foot in the door
“The foot-in-the-door technique is a way of improving compliance to large requests by preceding it with a small request." (Ibid.)
- Possible contra-dictions
“One aspect of social desirable responding is impression management: that is, the motivation to save face when responding to questions. Any design that increases the ‘socialness’ of an encounter may also lead to increases in impression management motives as well.” (ANJ, p.29)
- Triggering people’s strategic impression managment (ANJ, pp.29-30)
“(…) people may well participate in online research, even the completion of web-based surveys, with an audience in mind. (…) Since the requirement to act strategically is reduced once true anonymity is available, it is unlikely that a powerful, high status requestor to anonymous participants would elicit such a strong effect on response rates.” (ANJ, p.30)
- The design of specific questions (ANJ, pp.30-32)
“In a typical web-based survey, people are rarely given the opportunity to choose not to answer a particular question. (…) an ‘I don’t want to say’ option, if used carefully, should improve data quality by reducing the number of default selections. (…) The data of Joinson and Reips (2004b) suggest that people can be discouraged from disclosing sensitive data through the use of options within a web-based design.” (ANJ, p.31)
- Control and impression management (ANJ, pp.32-33)
“Socially desirable responding may well contain two distinct aspects: impression formation and self-deception (Paulhus 1984). Theoretically, anonymity will reduce socially desirable responding based on the desire to impression manage (Paulhus 1984), but it will not influence participants’ self-deception.” (ANJ, p.32)
“Fox and Schwartz (2002) foudn that by increasing participants’ control during the research process [choosing types of questions to answer, moving back and forth to change answers, …], the impression management aspect of socially desirable responding was also increased. (…) In the condition with weakened control - where participants were given a short time to answer each question, and could not move back to previous items - impression management reduced.