When and Why Randomized Response Techniques (Fail To) Elicit the Truth

50 Pages Posted: 2 Jan 2019 Last revised: 10 Jan 2019

See all articles by Leslie K. John

Leslie K. John

Harvard Business School

George Loewenstein

Carnegie Mellon University - Department of Social and Decision Sciences

Alessandro Acquisti

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management

Joachim Vosgerau

Bocconi University

Date Written: September 1, 2018

Abstract

By adding random noise to individual responses, randomized response techniques (RRTs) are intended to enhance privacy protection and encourage honest disclosure of sensitive information. Empirical findings on their success in doing so are, however, mixed. In nine experiments, we show that the noise introduced by RRTs can make respondents concerned that innocuous responses will be interpreted as admissions, and as a result, yield prevalence estimates that are lower than direct questioning (Studies 1–4, 5A, & 6), less accurate than direct questioning (Studies 1, 3, 4B, & 5A), and even nonsensical (i.e., negative; Studies 3–6). Studies 2A and 2B show that the paradox is eliminated when the target behavior is socially desirable, even when it is merely framed as such. Study 3 shows the paradox is driven by respondents’ concerns over response misinterpretation. A simple modification designed to reduce concerns over response misinterpretation reduces the problem (Studies 4 & 5), particularly when such concerns are heightened (Studies 5 & 6).

Keywords: Truth-Telling, Lying, Privacy, Information Disclosure, Survey Research

Suggested Citation

John, Leslie K. and Loewenstein, George F. and Acquisti, Alessandro and Vosgerau, Joachim, When and Why Randomized Response Techniques (Fail To) Elicit the Truth (September 1, 2018). Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 148(C), pages 101-123.. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3301431

Leslie K. John

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

George F. Loewenstein

Carnegie Mellon University - Department of Social and Decision Sciences ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States
412-268-8787 (Phone)
412-268-6938 (Fax)

Alessandro Acquisti (Contact Author)

Carnegie Mellon University - H. John Heinz III School of Public Policy and Management ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States
412-268-9853 (Phone)
412-268-5339 (Fax)

Joachim Vosgerau

Bocconi University ( email )

Via Sarfatti, 25
Milan, MI 20136
Italy

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