ACSPRI Conferences, RC33 Eighth International Conference on Social Science Methodology

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Conversational interviewing and the comprehension of opinion questions

Frost A. Hubbard, Chris Antoun, Frederick G Conrad

Building: Law Building
Room: Breakout 8 - Law Building, Room 100
Date: 2012-07-11 01:30 PM – 03:00 PM
Last modified: 2012-06-22


Conversational interviewing, which allows interviewers to say what is required so that respondents understand survey questions, can improve comprehension of questions and accuracy of answers (e.g. Conrad & Schober, 2000). These benefits have been demonstrated for questions about facts and behaviors, but not opinions. We report on a study that explored the effectiveness of conversational interviewing for opinion questions and examined differences in interviewers’ facility with the technique because of variation in their interpersonal sensitivity, i.e., ability to perceive the internal states (including comprehension) of other people based largely on their non-verbal behavior. We embedded our experiment in the last section of the June 2011 version of the Survey of Consumers after all questions had been administered with standardized interviewing. The interviewer then re-asked ten questions using standardized or conversational interviewing; the particular technique was randomly determined prior to data collection. Our main measure was response change between initial and subsequent administration of the questions, the logic being that if respondents misunderstood a question in the initial standardized presentation, they would be more likely to respond differently in a conversational compared to a standardized re-interview because conversational interviewing can correct the misconception potentially leading to a different answer. The ten questions in the experiment concerned a variety of topics, including opinions about the economy and respondent demographics. The definitions concerned words in the question stem and response categories. Across all ten questions, overall, the conversational technique produced significantly more response change than the standardized technique. This was largely due to one opinion and one behavioral question. Conversational interviewing required about one more minute than standardized administration of the ten questions. Interviewers who scored higher on a test of interpersonal sensitivity produced significantly more response change than those who scored lower. We are currently analyzing the interviewer-respondent interaction to further explain the quantitative effects.