Eye-Tracking Data: New Insights on Response Order Effects and Other Cognitive Shortcuts in Survey Responding
Posted: 18 Aug 2009
Date Written: 2008
Survey researchers since Cannell have worried that respondents may take various shortcuts to reduce the effort needed to complete a survey. The evidence for such shortcuts is often indirect. For instance, preferences for earlier versus later response options have been interpreted as evidence that respondents do not read beyond the first few options. This is really only a hypothesis, however, that is not supported by direct evidence regarding the allocation of respondent attention. In the current study, we used a new method to more directly observe what respondents do and do not look at by recording their eye movements while they answered questions in a Web survey. The eye-tracking data indicate that respondents do in fact spend more time looking at the first few options in a list of response options than those at the end of the list; this helps explain their tendency to select the options presented first regardless of their content. In addition, the eye-tracking data reveal that respondents are reluctant to invest effort in reading definitions of survey concepts that are only a mouse click away or paying attention to initially hidden response options. It is clear from the eye-tracking data that some respondents are more prone to these and other cognitive shortcuts than others, providing relatively direct evidence for what had been suspected based on more conventional measures.
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